The Insider Team will be providing information related to the Lee's Summit R-7 School District (LSR7) Comprehensive Facilities Master Plan (CFMP) in a number of installments to support a better community understanding of the processes followed to complete this work. This is the second installment.
At first glance, engaging the public through surveys, meetings, and online communication exchanges seems like a good way to determine what the community deems important. During Phase I of the CFMP, the Lee's Summit community was asked to weigh in on which of four boundary options would work best for the city through a number of venues.
The problem? None of the four options appeared to resolve concerns for LSR7 middle and high school facilities, and seemed to only partly resolve issues for elementary schools. Though it was clear that the response from citizens was to leave boundaries as-is and focus on new construction or renovation of existing facilities, the district decided to ignore the citizens and move the boundaries anyway.
So, did it work?
The short answer is no. Not really.
The tables below show the status of enrollment and teachers in each LSR7 elementary school as of August 2019.
When compared to state standards, we find that LSR7 is not meeting desirable standards in most of elementary school classrooms.
Here's how the August data set breaks down for LSR7:
Seven of 54 K-2 classrooms meet DESIRABLE Standards set forth by MO Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education = 13%
Eleven of 36 3-4 classrooms meet DESIRABLE Standards set forth by MO Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education = 31%
Six of 36 5-6 classrooms meet DESIRABLE Standards set forth by MO Dept of Elementary and Secondary Education = 17%
LSR7, one of the wealthier districts in Missouri, should be able to do better than this, so why do we have so many overcrowded classrooms and what can be done about it?
Looking deeper, do we know what all of these different capacities really mean? LSR7 defines them this way:
Design capacity is the capacity of the school at the time it was originally designed and built.
Current program capacity is the capacity of the school using current programming needs as they may have changed since the school was originally built.
Our district decided that a goal of 85% program capacity is where each school should be after boundary changes; however, the table above shows that we are far from reaching that goal. This is not a surprise, however. This was known before the district moved school boundaries and was the primary reason why citizens preferred a construction solution instead of a boundary solution.
Based on August 2019 numbers:
Seven elementary schools are above the 85% program capacity.
Two of those are also above their program capacity.
Additionally, we have schools that are below program capacity and design capacity, but still have overcrowded classrooms.
Number 3 above is yet another rabbit hole to follow. Why are we crowding our classrooms in schools that are well under program capacity? Is it equitable to manage our buildings this way? Or, perhaps we don't have the funds to add teachers at those schools. Maybe it is some sort of budgeting or bureaucratic problem. It is also possible that the superintendent at the time, Dr. Carpenter, had an agenda and that the boundary option selected supported that agenda. Perhaps boundaries had to be changed, but, if so, did the district select the best option?
To evaluate, we first need to remember what capacity looked like before the boundaries changed. Shown below is the map the district provided to the public to illustrate individual building capacities and enrollment.
Based on this map, and looking at just the elementary schools, we had three schools at or above program capacity and three schools nearing program capacity.
In October 2018, the district released these five primary school boundary change options that the for public engagement and response:
Of course, none of these options were designed for the long-term and most did not resolve problems in the short-term. While the district currently owns land to build another elementary school, that option was not on the table for citizens to evaluate.
By November 2018, the district had a new set of options, none of which resolved long-
or short-term problems. Instead of providing to the public, they recommended changes to the Board of Education. The Board at that time approved the recommendations with a rubber stamp. So, how did that work out for the kids?
According to August 2019 enrollment, we have two elementary schools above program capacity and two schools that are nearing program capacity. How much has changed since August? The district should follow through on their commitment to re-evaluate these boundaries each year. It would be good to get updated numbers.
"The CFMP team should be reconvened annually to look at changes in enrollment projections with a formal facility evaluation to occur and provided to the Board of Education no less than every five years."
So, it appears that the boundary moves for elementary helped reduce some crowding at two of the six elementary schools in need. That means we helped just one-third of the schools that needed relief: just over eight percent of total elementary schools in the district.
The questions remain -
why did the district choose the boundary option that they chose?
And why did the district choose to ignore the community input it had spent so much time and money gathering?
Moving forward, what ramifications will these decisions have on the future of kids in the district?