This week the Bakersfield City School District kicked off the process of redrawing its school boundaries.
A number of factors are in play as lines are redrawn for the central and northeast parts of the school district, Tim Fulenwider, executive director of the instructional support services division, told the school board Tuesday night.
Chief among those reasons is reorganizing Owens Primary and Owens Intermediate schools to become Owens Elementary and Lincoln Junior High School, which will happen in August 2022, according to district spokeswoman Tabatha Mills.
The district is also taking a look at boundaries with an eye toward cutting down how much time students spend on buses.
And like other local school districts in Bakersfield that have redrawn boundaries in the last year, the district is keeping watch on new housing developments that may increase enrollment. For BCSD, this is the northeastern edge of the district.
The schools that are expected to be affected by boundary redrawing are Compton Junior High, Fremont Elementary, Horace Mann Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Williams, as well as both Owens campuses. Parents from all campuses have been chosen to be a part of the committee, which began to meet this week.
The board expects to approve final plans for boundaries in December. This timeline had been approved by the board in May 2020, but it has all been pushed back a year later.
This month it will begin making presentations to parent committees within the district. In November, the committee will make formal recommendations, and those recommendations will be presented and publicized to the board and to schools' Parent Cafes. Parent committees will review the recommendations in December before the board makes its final approval.
The reorganization of what will become Lincoln Junior High and Owens Elementary was a plan approved in May 2020. It set into motion a plan that requires remodeling and construction on both campuses.
The district is also hoping to cut bus times ahead of a new law requiring later start times for junior high students. It is also keeping an eye on overcrowded campuses while it redraws boundaries. There is also some discussion of the new plot of land it has purchased on the district's eastern edge.
When Owens Intermediate becomes Lincoln Junior High, it will begin to serve seventh and eighth grade students from Jefferson and Williams. But because Jefferson currently has no sixth grade students, its boundaries as well as Williams' may need to be adjusted, Fulenwider said.
Currently, Owens Intermediate is the host for many of the district's Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs. The district hopes to maintain the program and move it to Owens Elementary. But to do so, Owens' neighborhood boundaries may also need to be changed.
This boundary redrawing comes at a time when school districts' transportation departments are preparing for a new law that takes effect next year, mandating that junior high and middle schools begin school no earlier than 8 a.m. All of BCSD's junior highs and middle schools begin at 7:35 a.m., so this will require some changes to the transportation schedule.
But Fulenwider said that the time has come. Redrawing boundaries will "address overcrowding as well as long bus rides that many of our students have."
Stiern's feeder schools, Jefferson and Williams, are 4.1 miles and 3.6 miles away, respectively. Chipman is 4.5 miles away from Fremont, which feeds into it. Cato is 3.75 miles from its feeder school, Horace Mann.
It's not just about the miles to school, but all the stops that the bus makes along the way that make the journey long, Fulenwider said. When students live closer to the school they attend, they and their parents can spend more time in their schools and in their communities. Transportation is less likely to be a barrier.
Finally, Fulenwider noted that the district is expected to grow east along the 178 freeway. Permits have been pulled for an area just northeast of Hort Elementary in an undeveloped area, a sign that new residents with more students are on the way. This boundary change process will be a good time to study the issue and revisit the land the district purchased at Paladino Drive and Masterson Street for a new school, Fulenwider said.
Trustee Chris Cruz-Boone asked whether this boundary redrawing process is expected to become as heated as the Kern High School District's recent changes, which drew controversy for considering redrawing Bakersfield High School's boundaries.
Fulenwider noted that when the district opened its last new schools, Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary and then Fletcher Elementary and Cato Middle School, it listened to parent feedback. The district also often approves permits to parents who want their students to finish out their remaining years at their current school, rather that transfer.
"We have a standard process for doing that, which has worked well these last two times," he said.