School Boundaries – Time For A New Approach?Posted on Apr 23, 2015 12:00:00 AM
There are not many issues that will spark more community discussion than a potential school boundary change. Concerned community members generally voice several concerns in these discussions including transportation issues, home values, academic performance, and school friendships. All of these issues have merit and are worthy of consideration. However, as school revenues become more constrained at a federal, state, and local level…is it time to consider a longer term analytic approach to boundaries?
In my discussions with school administrators around the country, a few themes are consistently presented:
1. Many school districts are experiencing enrollment declines – mirroring declines in national live birth trends.
2. The neighborhoods in which schools were built decades ago, are experiencing aging and demographic changes, causing the building locations to be not as strategically placed as they once were.
3. Imbalances in enrollment between buildings within a school district are creating additional expense in staffing and transportation.
Not all school districts are experiencing these issues, but many are dealing with one or more of the situations listed above…and the question becomes, “what can we do about it”?
In order to assess the situation and the potential solutions, school administrators must have data to work with. Here are some of the data sets that you might need to start an analysis:
1. Live birth rates by county, zip code, or district
2. Grade level enrollment history, by building
3. District level enrollment history with demographics and service needs, if available
4. Mobility rates by building
5. Economic growth statistics by area
6. District staffing by position, assignment, and building
Ultimately, this analysis is about appropriately staffing the district buildings and using the data to create a multi-year staffing plan, as well as, an optimal transportation plan. Using the data sets listed above, you should be able to get a sense of what is happening within the district and within your buildings.
The next phase of the analysis, though, is to marry the data with the district geography and boundaries. You will be able to understand the current situation, as well as, how things are going to play out if you understand the student locations versus the district and building boundaries.
When the data points to a declining enrollment trend within a building, the administrative response should be to proactively look at the boundaries and simulate logical boundary changes to see if there are opportunities to balance the enrollment. Why is this important? As you look at your planning from a multi-year perspective, you will see that proactive adjustment can result in:
1. Greater balance of equity between buildings
2. Potential multi-year savings on duplicative staffing expense
3. Transportation efficiencies that reduce cost or improve student services
Any type of boundary analysis is going to be greatly aided by mapping software. Among several uses, Forecast5 clients are using 5Maps to do these types of simulations…and achieving several benefits:
• Gaining a visual perspective on their current situation
• Acquiring geoanalytic and statistical reference on simulations and scenarios
• Benefitting from the ability to “play out” the scenarios to assess the long term cost/benefit of a potential change
Forward thinking school districts are looking closely at enrollment data with the understanding that there is significant budgetary and service delivery ramifications. In terms of generating a positive ROI using analytics, enrollment and boundary analyses are rich with opportunities.
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Mike English is a founder and the CEO/President of Forecast5 Analytics, Inc. – a technology company focused on software development and data analytics for the public sector. Mike has spent his entire career concentrating on the development of financial and strategic solutions for schools and municipalities. Forecast5 is headquartered in Naperville, Illinois – a suburb 30 miles west of Chicago.