After two community input meetings during which a total of seven members of the public contributed their views on the impending school redistricting between Brownsville and Crozet elementary schools, the 10-member Redistricting Advisory Committee held a final meeting on November 16 where they decided to move students in the Grayrock, Waylands/Bargamin, Western Ridge, and Wickham Pond neighborhoods to Crozet Elementary next year.
A particular point of debate was how to incorporate enrollment uncertainty into future projections for each school. “We’ve heard several times about the difficulty of our out-year projections, and that’s compounded by the pandemic year where we’ve had kids and families who are making other decisions about their schooling,” said Albemarle schools Chief of Strategic Planning Patrick McLaughlin, who facilitated the committee’s discussion. These “missing” students dis-enrolled during the 2020-21 school year and most have not yet returned, leaving the committee to make assumptions about how many will return in future years.
In addition, the division does not have projection data for subsets (neighborhoods) of school districts. “[Our traditional enrollment projections] are sort of boundary-wide, based on the current boundaries of the schools,” said Maya Kumazawa, director of budget and planning for the school system. “As we talked about early on in this process, we don’t have projections for specific neighborhoods—there’s no good data to really take the new [proposed] boundaries and move [the old data] forward.”
Instead, division staff offered the committee a “what if?” situation in which the redistricting was being done in 2019-20, pre-pandemic and before many families pulled their children from the public school system. Using 2019-20 school enrollments as a baseline, the committee looked at the effects of moving varying numbers of students from Brownsville to Crozet in terms of how close each scenario put those buildings to their capacity limits. The current construction will create a new maximum capacity of 668 students at Crozet, while Brownsville will remain at its current 756.
“What I find compelling about this new slide is that we’re looking at real data and not making any assumptions, because nobody knows what’s going to happen,” said Kumazawa. “It’s indicative of what the future might be based on real data. So, we’re saying if all of the missing students return, then this is what it might have looked like two years ago.” She noted that the presented data did not include the effects of additional potential student yield from new planned development in the area. That data was noted in a box below the new projection information.
Because of the large disparity between current year and pre-pandemic enrollment numbers, particularly at Brownsville Elementary, where more than 100 fewer students are currently enrolled as compared with 2019-20, the post-redistricting capacities in this new view were startling. For instance, if the planned number of students (245) were moved under Scenario 3 given the enrollment levels at Crozet Elementary during 2019-20, then the school would have been at 97% of its newly expanded capacity.
The new data shifted the thinking of committee members toward considering more conservative (smaller) numbers of students to redistrict. “[This] just makes me slightly concerned if a couple of things happen,” said Jojo O’Loughlin. “If, one, we recover the number of students that we lost due to Covid quickly, and also development happens at a brisker pace than maybe has been the case for that area of Crozet, then my worry is just that we might hit close to capacity [at Crozet], or over capacity, in the short term.”
McLaughlin agreed and noted other future uncertainties. “Those kids may come back next year, or they may not come back for three, four, or five years,” he said. “Same thing with development. You can see what the planned developments are [in Crozet]. But we don’t know if the economy is going to get really robust and speed up, or the bottom is going to drop out and it’s going to stop. So, it’s really a challenge to try to predict the type of growth with real accuracy.”
Committee member Christine Koenig suggested that the new projection data might lead the discussion to focus on only the scenarios with lower numbers of redistricted students. “I feel like we’re operating under kind of different assumptions [than we had] for all the other meetings,” said Koenig. “And now we are to the point where we kind of changed that. So, I think that we should maybe look at only the scenario with the next lowest number [of students moved].”
Other members agreed, and a motion to eliminate scenarios 3 and 4.1 (which moved 272 students and led the adjusted 2019-20 capacity at Crozet Elementary to exceed 100%) passed unanimously. The committee also reviewed data from an emailed community survey that garnered about 250 responses. Scenario 2.1, which included moving students from areas along Crozet Avenue including Chesterfield Landing, where students can currently walk to Brownsville, had over 20% of respondents describe themselves as “dissatisfied” with that option.
The committee eventually began to coalesce around a new scenario, “2.2,” which used scenario 2.0 as a starting point. Scenario 2.0 envisioned moving students from Grayrock, Waylands/Bargamin, Wickham Pond, Glenbrook at Foothill Crossing, Western Ridge, and a small portion of Crozet Avenue from Rt. 240 down to Oak Drive. The 2.2 scenario removed the group of seven students in the Crozet Avenue portion to reduce the total to 219 students redistricted, so the expanded Crozet Elementary school would host a total of 545 students next year.
The committee discussed other concerns such as demographic changes with the 2.2 plan as well as the likelihood of planned development panning out and how many students might be grandfathered (allowed to remain at their original school), which is a decision made by the School Board. In terms of demographics, the only mildly significant change would be in the percentage of economically disadvantaged students at each school, which would go down a few percentage points for Crozet and up a bit for Brownsville.
Ultimately, the committee members had to resolve to live with the uncertainty of post-pandemic student enrollment recovery and changeability of developers’ building plans. While considering whether or not to move Grayrock and Waylands/Bargamin students to Crozet Elementary, McLaughlin cautioned that the two neighborhoods should be looked at as a group, similar to Old Trail, so the decision should be both or neither.
“I think if we kept one of those areas at Brownsville and the other two at Crozet, I might like the look of that number [of students] more,” said Rich Anderson, “but I don’t necessarily like the look of that map more because those neighborhoods are right beside one another, they’re interconnected. So, I would err on the side of moving them together to Crozet, maybe having a little bit less space at Crozet, [perhaps offset by the prospect of] Old Trail probably growing faster than Montclair and Glenbrook.”
Jennifer Roper summed up the basic conundrum facing most redistricting decisions. “There’s [no option] that divides the math really well and also breaks up into logical areas of neighborhoods,” she said. “You know, we’re going to come down on either moving less than we wanted or moving a little bit more than we want to and that’s just the decision that we have to make.”
The committee finished its work with a unanimous decision to recommend scenario 2.2 to Superintendent Matt Haas at the November 29 School Board meeting. To view presentation slides and survey results, visit k12albemarle.org and go to Our Division > Redistricting Advisory Committee.