By KAYLA RUTLEDGE
GSN Staff Writer
Disproportionate student distribution on some of its campuses has prompted Chandler Unified School District officials to consider boundary changes for elementary schools that could be implemented in the 2021 academic year and possibly build a new school.
A final recommendation on the changes will be presented to the school board at its May 8 meeting and a vote on the recommendation could come at its May 22 meeting.
Though the district’s overall enrollment rate is declining, three elementary schools – Haley, Patterson and Weinberg – are at risk of being over capacity, officials said.
“Those schools right now are projected to be receiving growth. So we just need to make sure that we have a plan that’s viable that redistributes some of the growth patterns and then helps us prepare for not only five years down the road but ten years down the road,” said Frank Narducci, assistant superintendent for elementary instruction.
Population shifts and growth along the Val Vista Corridor – an area south of the Santan Loop 202 Freeway on Val Vista Drive – have resulted in uneven distribution of students in the area, officials said. The corridor is situated in Gilbert, but lies within CUSD’s boundaries.
South of the freeway along the corridor are 1,300 acres of undeveloped land—the largest pocket yet to be undeveloped within Chandler Unified’s boundaries.
“It has the most growth ability for residential properties and commercial properties for our school district,” said CUSD Chief Financial Officer Lana Berry.
The district is anticipating an influx of students from future growth along the corridor, which Narducci credited to the increasing number of large corporations in the area that bring families to the city.
“Also, with the widening of Val Vista that is going to bring major arterial flow, and will bring housing strings along that arterial flow to the 202. So we think that area is going to be developed over a little bit of time but we need to be able to project that,” said Narducci.
In addition to four other boundary change options, CUSD officials are also considering an “Option E” which includes the addition of a new elementary school – dubbed Elementary School #31 for the time being.
Though an exact location for the school has not yet been determined, it would absorb the current Weinberg boundary and some of the Haley boundary.
The current Weinberg facility would then transition into a gifted academy serving students living on the east side of CUSD.
Berry said the funds to construct the new facility will come from a potential bond election. The board will decide whether or not the increase of local taxes allocated to education will be on the ballot.
The need for an additional gifted academy surfaced after 200 students were denied open enrollment last year when trying to get into Knox Gifted Academy located on the district’s west side.
Only 17 of the denied students were recaptured at another school with a gifted program, while others left CUSD entirely and opted for private or charter schools with gifted programs.
“We’re finding the most financially responsible way to provide [gifted] service[s] to families to where more parents will have the option. We certainly have parents that don’t have that option or don’t choose that option because it’s not in close proximity to their homes,” said Narducci.
In addition to a new elementary school, the district is also considering a new high school facility.
In a meeting last November, the state’s School Facilities Board approved $18 million for a new high school with the capacity for 1,064 students.
CUSD will need more money before looking to purchase land, yet Berry said the district has time to flesh out those details.
“We have not determined exactly where we will place that secondary school, but we are looking at this time for where we will potentially buy land and then build an additional secondary school, within the southern corridor of our 80 square miles,” Berry said. “We are still growing in the secondary arena, and we are still planning on growing for the next eight years in that area.”
At this time, Narducci added, there is no need for parents to panic about a new secondary school option, as there will be no discussions or changes to secondary schooling for next school year.
Narducci also noted other concerns that have been raised by parents about the boundary changes are being actively addressed; however, parents should not worry excessively.
“At this point right now were talking about the year 2021, so we’re way ahead of it, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be impacted in 2021. We may have a slow transition of some of our programs where students can finish up where they’re at, they can be grandfathered in. We provide dual bussing which means that we’ll provide bussing to gifted academies,” said Narcucci.
“We work with families really well to ensure those transitions work for them,” he added.