St. Croix's public schools will embark September on a two-year plan to more evenly balance school enrollment across the island and cut transportation costs, Superintendent Gary Molloy told a crowded parents meeting Wednesday.
More than 60 adults filled the auditorium at Lew Muckle Elementary School to hear Molloy outline the policy. It was one of many PTA meetings he has spoken to in recent weeks to make sure people understand how school enrollment is changing and why.
The administration has been looking at redistricting since 2008, Molloy said. The reform has been spurred by imbalances that lead some public schools to be overcrowded and others to be under-utilized, a product of a perception that some public schools are more “elite,” causing parents to press to get their students into those schools.
For example, Lew Muckle has 433 students, 88 of whom live outside the school's boundary, and almost all of those 88 got bumped from what should be their school, Ricardo Richards, because it was overpopulated with 114 students from out of its district.
Families use a variety of ploys and stratagems to circumvent the district boundaries, including giving the address of a friend or relative who lives in the district, or saying that the child lives with a relative in that area. Molloy said the new policy is very clear that the address given must be the principle residence of the child's parents. He added that the district has a variety of ways to check that, including several public records. He added that under V.I. Law giving false information is punishable by fine and/or imprisonment.
The district is easing in the policy, so there will not be a mass shifting of students in the fall. Beginning in September, all new students to the district – kindergartners and older students transferring into the public schools – must enroll in the school closest to their home.
In answer to a parent's question, Molloy said parents will not be able to argue that the incoming kindergartner already has a child at the school. The new kindergartner will go to the school in the district he or she lives in.
“You have the option of moving the out-of-district child to the kindergartner's school, but you cannot put the younger sibling into the out-of-district school,” Molloy said.
Also, while the system will not force children to move to their neighborhood schools this year, he said the district will no longer provide bus transportation to transport children to schools outside their district.
The school bus system costs the district about $4 million a year, Molloy said, and the company charges by the mile. Cutting the number of miles the buses have to travel can result in a significant savings, and with the Department of Education facing another big budget cut in the coming year, every penny counts, according to the superintendent.
By phasing in the new policy, Molloy said no students will miss the final year at their current schools. Fifth graders, eighth graders, and high school seniors won't have to transfer to a new school at the beginning of their last year.
Beginning in 2013, all students will be required to attend the school in the district they reside in. The new district lines have been drawn by estate boundaries.
Molloy added that kindergarten enrollment, which opened in April, is proceeding at a rapid pace raising the possibility the district will enroll more kindergartners than they ever have in a single year.