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D 49 buildout plan

To alleviate crowding issues and bring school boundaries in line with the newly proposed buildout plan and feeder patterns, Falcon School District 49 Board of Directors approved boundary modifications within the Powers corridor at the Jan. 14 board meeting.As part of the boundary realignment, the board voted in a grandfather clause, which allows affected students to continue attending their current schools. Younger siblings will not be grandfathered and will need to attend their assigned school, said Melissa Andrews, District 49 planner.The most controversial change affects students living between Barnes Road and Ashley Drive. The new alignment sends 58 elementary students to Springs Ranch Elementary instead of Stetson Hills where they currently attend. Those same students will attend Skyview Middle School and Sand Creek High School instead of Vista Ridge High School, the target school for the majority of their classmates, Andrews said.The new alignment breaks the intended feeder pattern (Springs Ranch Elementary, Horizon Middle School and Sand Creek High School) because Horizon Middle School was not built to handle enough students, Andrews said. To conform to the feeder pattern, Horizon needs to accommodate 900 students. Its current capacity is 575 students, and it’s already overcrowded with 672 students.Board member Tammy Harold voted against the changes for the corridor. “I was hearing from parents that they wanted the district to wait until Horizon Middle School was ready,” Harold said.The new boundaries save the district money by eliminating an elementary school crossing guard and part of a high school bus route. However, Harold said parents were concerned about the effect on students who build friendships in middle school but are required to attend a different high school than most of their classmates.Still, Harold is optimistic that families will utilize options within the district framework to find a solution that works for their children. The grandfather clause allows students to continue at Vista Ridge if they are already attending, and choice options in the district could allow younger siblings an opportunity to attend Vista Ridge, even if their home school is Sand Creek, Harold said.Board members Danielle Lindorf and Andy Holloman defended the timing of the action and said the move is pre-emptive.”We wanted to do it now, because this is the future and it would give them an opportunity to grandfather in before those schools didn’t have seats for them,” Lindorf said.The future Lindorf referenced is determined by an extensive new plan prepared by the D 49 Long Range Planning Committee. Andy Holloman, former chairman of the planning committee and now a board member, said the buildout plan is the first of its kind in D 49.Holloman became the planning chairman in 2008; and, under his leadership, he said the committee stopped trying to fight the district fires and focused on collecting data to build a plan in conjunction with community values.The result is a plan based on five high schools at full buildout, with an estimated 50,000 students, Holloman said. Each high school is fed by a middle school, which is fed by three elementary schools. One K-8 charter school within the district feeds into each of the high schools.Holloman said the plan is flexible and likely to change. “One of the disadvantages we have is we don’t know when the growth is going to happen and where (it’s) going to happen,” he said.Now that the plan is in place, it points to the immediate need to correct Horizon Middle School, Holloman said.Under the board’s direction, the district is applying for a Building Excellent Schools Today grant from the Colorado Department of Education. BEST is a capital assistance grant that would allow the district to build an addition to Horizon Middle School and alleviate the crowding at Skyview Middle School, Andrews said.If the CDE does not award the BEST grant, Lindorf said the board is working on other options – including bonds and mill levies. Alhough they have not officially voted to approve a bond, groundwork in data collection and drafting bond language is almost under way, he said.Holloman said the board is aware the community is skeptical of bonds. “We’re not a district that’s known for just passing anything that gets put in front of us,” he said. “We have to be upfront with our community about what it is we’re going to do, and we have to be very responsible.”Lindorf said the board is planning to collect specific numbers for building costs and neighborhood growth projections. “It’s important to get as close as we can; otherwise, we won’t be able to get the language that our community can trust to pass this bond,” she said.Even with the new plan and more revenue, Holloman said the district will still be “fighting fires for a while.”He said the lack of commercial tax revenue places the tax burden squarely on the rooftop of each home in the district, and the district is also limited by a bonding capacity of $125 million. “We could build schools with that money and have them at capacity right out the shoot – and have very little money to run the schools,” he said.”However, we don’t want to compromise our future and be as far behind the eight ball as we have in the past by not going ahead and making some bold decisions about where we need to go – and getting the funding to do it.”

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