Thursday, December 19, 2002

Housing growth again puts squeeze on Boone schools

By Stephenie Steitzer
Enquirer contributor

Boone County school officials built a new elementary school five years ago to accommodate growth in the county.

Now, Erpenbeck Elementary School in Florence is busting at the seams with students, forcing principal Becky Brown to use a storage closet, the cafeteria and the lobby as makeshift classrooms.

There are five possible scenarios Boone County School District officials are considering in their plans for redistricting:
From Erpenbeck Elementary to A.M. Yealey Elementary: The subdivisions of Pleasant Valley Meadows, Spring Garden Estates, Pleasant Valley Acres and Kensington.
From Erpenbeck Elementary to New Haven Elementary: Hathaway Road east of Camp Ernst to U.S. 42.
From Erpenbeck Elementary to Ockerman Elementary: Gunpowder Estates subdivision.
From Erpenbeck Elementary to Kelly Elementary: Hathaway Road west of Camp Ernst.
From Ockerman Elementary to Florence Elementary: Plantation Apartments, Vineyard Apartments, Town and Country and Denhams.
Commonwealth Accountability Testing System scores:
A.M. Yealey: 81.9
Erpenbeck: 85.6
Florence: 68.4
Kelly: 86
New Haven: 82.5
Ockerman: 84.6
The state wants all schools to score 100 by 2014.
"The reason they are focusing on Erpenbeck right now is because of the predictions of growth for this area," she said.

To help alleviate Erpenbeck's congestion, district officials have developed five scenarios for redistricting six of the 10 district elementary schools.

Parents can learn about the scenarios from 7 to 8:30 p.m. today at the Ralph Rush Staff Development Center at 103 Center St. in Florence.

Assistant Superintendent Randy Poe said residents of the affected communities would have an opportunity to ask questions and raise concerns with the various scenarios. The committee will host another public hearing Jan. 2 and then the school board will decide which scenarios to implement.

"We empathize with the people who have to move," Mr. Poe said. "Everybody on the committee would prefer not to do this."

One of those residents is Jim Brannon, who lives in the Pleasant Valley Meadows subdivision with his wife, Kim, and their two young children.

Mr. Brannon, a civil engineer, said he doesn't want his third-grade daughter Alison to move from Erpenbeck to A.M. Yealey Elementary School, which would happen if the district approves one particular scenario.

"I'm in no way disparaging the school board," Mr. Brannon said. "They've got to do what they've got to do, but pulling (students) out of an existing school, I'm not sure is the way to go."

Mr. Poe said a primary focus of the redistricting is to shift about 250 students from Erpenbeck to AM Yealey, New Haven, Ockerman or Kelly elementary schools.

Just this week, five new students enrolled in Erpenbeck, which already had about 900 students in P-5. The building's capacity is 850.

Mr. Poe said one out of every four homes constructed in Boone County is in the area surrounding Erpenbeck.

"It's been a growing district," he said. "Planning and zoning says there will be no stoppage of growth in five years."

Boone County Planning and Zoning director Kevin Costello said the county population grew 49 percent between 1990 and 2000.Despite an economic downturn and the Erpenbeck homebuilder scandal, he said people are continuing to buy and build homes in the county.

The Erpenbeck Elementary School was built on land donated to the county by the Erpenbeck family whose building concerns are not affiliated with the business run by fallen homebuilder Bill Erpenbeck.

Mr. Costello said people are attracted to Boone County because of the school system, quality of life, job opportunities and proximity to the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, the Florence Mall and downtown Cincinnati.

"I think the school district has been pretty proactive in acquiring land, either by purchase or donation, as well as adding or expanding additional schools," he said.

Mr. Poe said the district is trying to think about the long-term, by planning a new middle school in 2005 and a new high school several years down the road.

The district is constantly renovating and adding to the district's 17 school buildings, he added.

"We can't renovate fast enough," Mr. Poe said.

This year, 800 new students enrolled in district schools. That's up from the district's usual annual average of 350-400 every year.

The 800 new students who enrolled in Boone County Schools this year nearly equal the total enrollment of the Beechwood Independent Schools district, which has about 1,000 students.

During the redistricting process, the committee is also trying to keep neighborhoods together, to keep travel time for students to a minimum, to provide a clear feeder system into the middle and high schools and to avoid disturbing social and economic balances at the schools.

School Board member Steve Kinman said the thing he tells parents who ask him about redistricting is that all the schools in the Boone County School District are above par.

"I wouldn't hesitate to send my children to any one of our schools," he said.

Still, Mr. Brannon said Erpenbeck has performed better on standardized tests, so he would like his daughter to stay there.

"You build a house thinking you are going to go to a school with good test scores and then you have to move to another one," he said.

Mr. Kinman, however, said everyone in the county should be aware of the growth explosion and all the issues that go with it.

"Short of living right next door to a school, you run that risk of having your child be redistricted," he said.

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