By Rebecca LaFlure
Fort Hood Herald
Killeen Independent School District officials say they expect criticism to arise over their recently proposed rezoning plan, but insist it's the best option for addressing high school overcrowding.
"Rezoning of any kind is dramatic and tough. Nobody likes it," board member Mike Helm said Friday. "I felt like we had no legitimate choice."
Board members recommended a rezoning plan March 23 that would shift hundreds of students to different high schools this fall. Officials will present the plan during a series of public hearings in April. Then the board will vote whether to implement it or make changes.
Officials began discussing rezoning options in February after enrollment estimates revealed Harker Heights and Ellison high schools would exceed capacity in the fall. At the same time, they were underutilizing Killeen High School, the district's only 4A campus.
Though the plan includes significantly more rezoning than the other options, officials say their proposal best addresses overcrowding at Harker Heights and Ellison while boosting enrollment at KHS, maintaining enrollment at Shoemaker and setting up future zoning for a fifth high school.
Helm said the plan also balances the number of military dependents at each campus - reducing Shoemaker's percentage from 71 to 52 percent - and provides more middle school feeder schools.
The plan would create a north zone for KHS, three vertical zones for EHS, SHS and HHHS and a south zone for the future high school, he said.
"It addresses more issues today and for the future than other options," Helm said.
Looking at the options
Rezoning is just one part of a three-tier approach to balance enrollment in the district's high schools. Officials also plan to expand Pathways academic alternative learning center to between 600 to 800 students and create a Career Academy, scheduled to open in fall 2012, that would house 1,200 students from all four high schools.
Board members last rezoned the district when Shoemaker and Harker Heights opened in August 2000. Officials discussed rezoning again several times over the past few years but Helm said, "It wasn't necessary until now."
According to the proposed plan, the 559 Shoemaker students who live in Comanche Village would move to KHS; the 602 Ellison students who live west of State Highway 195 would go to Shoemaker; and the 488 Harker Heights students who live in Hymesa would shift to Ellison.
Board members initially leaned toward another option, which would move more than 700 Ellison and Harker Heights students who live north of 190 to Killeen High.
Officials admit reaching a decision was tough, but say the selected option provides better flexibility for future zoning. Some also worried that the other option would send too many students to KHS.
"When you look at the numbers, (the chosen option) moves the right number in the right areas, sets up middle schools for better feeder patterns and sets up the fifth high school better down the road," board member Ron Rainosek said Friday, admitting he was skeptical of the plan at first. "It really does make more sense."
The proposed plan does have its shortcomings. It moves the most students of all the options and affects all four high schools. It would also tack 20 minutes each way onto the daily bus ride for high school students in Comanche Village.
"There's no perfect rezoning option," KISD Superintendent Robert Muller said in an interview Friday. "There are concerns with all of them."
Due to a grandfather clause, officials will not know just how effective - or ineffective - the rezoning plan is until the first day of school.
All current KISD high school students could choose to remain at their existing campuses. Incoming freshmen would be the only ones not eligible.
Officials have not decided if transportation would be provided to the students who choose to stay.
If the plan is approved, administrators will begin accepting applications in May from students who wish to stay at their original school.
"I don't think we want to disrupt that many kids all at once," Helm said. "Kids develop ties to their school, and it's important to give them the opportunity to finish high school there."
The enrollment projections also are in question, particularly after officials estimated an enrollment decline this school year and instead got an increase.
For now, officials are waiting to gain input from community members during the public hearings in April, which could completely change their plans.
"This is not set in concrete yet," Muller said. "Everything is possibly still on the table."
Contact Rebecca LaFlure at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7548.
Follow her on Twitter at KDHeducation.