Proposed Boundaries for New Butterfly Ridge Elementary Won’t Fix All Overcrowding Problems

March 23, 2017 / / News

By Jeremy Bauer-Wolf, Frederick News Post
Thursday, March 23, 2017

A new elementary school in west Frederick, meant to ease overcrowding at area schools, won’t completely erase the problem.

The proposed attendance boundaries for Butterfly Ridge Elementary School, as endorsed by the superintendent, were presented to the Frederick County Board of Education Wednesday.

Superintendent Terry Alban’s recommendation comes after months of extensive meetings in which district officials sought public comment.

The district will pull students from Hillcrest, Waverley and Orchard Grove elementary schools to fill Butterfly Ridge, and shift students at other elementary schools around to balance enrollments. A little more than 1,200 elementary students will move from one school to another.

The new attendance area border starts with U.S. 40, separating it from the Waverley Elementary district. Some previous Hillcrest neighborhoods were pulled into Butterfly Ridge, as well as some rural, open areas down to Mount Zion Road.

Butterfly Ridge, along with a second new elementary school, Sugarloaf in Urbana, is planned to open in the fall of 2018.

Even with the new school, district staff members believe that in 2018-19, at least five elementary schools will be over capacity, which is determined by the state: Orchard Grove, Tuscarora, Valley, Waverley, and Whittier elementary schools.

Waverley in particular is estimated to be quite crowded after Butterfly Ridge opens, at 157 percent of its state-rated capacity. The district plans to renovate Waverley, possibly building an addition within five years.

Board member Colleen Cusimano said during the meeting she was surprised that Butterfly Ridge would open far below capacity — about 82 percent.

Several county-approved developments are underway in the attendance area for Butterfly Ridge, Beth Pasierb, the district’s supervisor of facilities planning, said. The district wanted to leave wiggle room for future students, she said.

Staff members could have shifted more neighborhoods from Waverley to Butterfly Ridge to help bring down overcrowding at Waverley, said Chief Operating Officer Paul Lebo. But that would have sharply bumped up the percentage of impoverished students who would attend Waverley.

A temporary move from some Waverley students to Butterfly Ridge was suggested until a Waverley addition is constructed.

Parents were adamant that the district, in redrawing, attendance lines not exclude low-income students or create pockets of poverty, a point with which district officials agreed.

“I think it’s a disadvantage to continue to run a school that’s at 157 percent capacity in the hopes of watering down the poverty impact,” Cusimano said. “It’s not even a struggle for me, if there’s some way to relieve the numbers. I think it creates some safety issues. I think it creates educational challenges to pack that many students into a building that isn’t made for that many people.”

The district anticipates that about 58 percent of students attending Butterfly Ridge will use free or reduced-price meals at school, a mark of poverty.

Butterfly Ridge will likely join the county’s Title I schools, which enroll a high percentage of students on free and reduced-price meals and are entitled to additional federal dollars for initiatives like after-school activities or more teachers.

This redistricting will reduce or remove portable classrooms at some schools, a peeve of parents who say outdoor classes pose safety concerns for students.

Hillcrest Elementary will no longer need any of its current 20 portable classrooms.

Lebo said fencing is being constructed at Waverley around the existing portables, a response to community feedback.

The school district is trying to cope with soaring populations in some areas, like Frederick and Urbana, while schools remain underused in others. There was an unexpected influx of more than 650 students this year. The district has accounted for nearly 500 more in the next school year.

Vice President Liz Barrett has called for a more comprehensive countywide study, including a look at vastly underused schools.

The idea hasn’t gained traction with board members before, but some seemed to warm to it Wednesday night. Board member Mike Bunitsky wholeheartedly agreed with many of Barrett’s points. Others, including the student member, went along Bunitsky, but with caveats.

“I certainly will not make the mistake I made my first year on the board and talk about closing schools, but I will talk about how we can use the space that we have,” Barrett said.

Cusimano said in a later interview that she supports a countywide redistricting. However, she said the process is complicated by new regulations on students who want to attend schools other than where they’re assigned. She said students should be allowed to attend other schools, so wiping the map clean and redrawing all of the lines is almost a “suggestion.”

In the Butterfly Ridge redistricting, contractor Cropper GIS Consulting assisted the district, specifically in developing and analyzing maps. Cropper was paid about $30,000, Pasierb has said.

Representatives from Cropper will appear at a school board meeting in May — the same month the board is due to decide on new attendance areas.

The district will hold three more public hearings on the redistricting proposal in March and April.