At some point during the year, many school districts will fall into one of these three areas:
- Thinking about planning a bond or levy measure
- Attempting to pass a bond or levy
- Trying make the most of the bond or levy they just passed
No matter which category your district finds itself in, the end goals are the same: alleviate overcrowded classrooms, get facilities sited in the best possible location, and—if existing facilities are being expanded or new facilities are being built—make sure attendance area boundaries are redrawn to accommodate community values while balancing school capacities.
Easier said than done.
School district planning involves a lot of decisions and a lot of data, regardless of size or number of students. Reaching that end goal will never be simple, but you can make your bond or levy campaign run smoothly by taking the time to update your long-term facilities plan, determine your school siting criteria, and start thinking about whether you’ll need to update attendance area boundaries.
Tip 1: Update your long-term facilities plan
If you’re planning a bond or levy, make sure your long-term facilities plan is updated with accurate and defensible enrollment forecasts based on a robust set of data. That data should include student enrollment assessments, historic enrollment, land use and residential development information, and demographic trends and estimates. Without an accurate prediction of the future alerting you to enrollment changes in your district over time, you won’t be prepared to know where and to what extent to expand existing facilities or build new facilities when your bond or levy passes.
While demographers have long provided enrollment forecasts to school districts, these forecasts (while useful in many ways) are often district-wide and are not broken down for individual school attendance areas or by building attendance—where it matters most. So, while you might know how many fourth graders to expect for the district in total for a particular year, you won’t know what the forecast is for individual elementary schools.
Knowing the total number of students expected district-wide can’t provide insight into enrollment fluctuation for a given school, or help you plan for a time when student enrollment exceeds school capacity. It also doesn’t provide the granular information that’s necessary to make important decisions about the configuration of school facilities or chart enrollment trends in individual neighborhoods.
Instead of relying on the standard, district-wide enrollment data, incorporate forecasts that tell you where in your district students are projected to live, allowing you to make the most informed decisions possible about your future student population.
(BONUS!) Obtaining detailed enrollment forecasts and understanding how the data relates to your district’s current capability to accommodate the student population will set you up for success when helping the public understand why they should pass your bond or levy. They’ll clearly see the future potential for growth and the justifiable need for new schools and reconfigured attendance areas.
Tip 2: Nail down your school siting criteria
If you need to site new schools with the bond or levy funds you have secured or plan to secure through a successful campaign, don’t decide where to build until you consider:
- Your community’s values, like walkability and proximity to public transportation
- Where your future student population is likely to reside
- Land parcel size and location requirements
- Environmental constraints
- Your community’s zoning regulations
Once you’ve compiled that information, you can look at potential properties in your district that meet your criteria. You can then create a prioritized property list, use it to efficiently compare siting options, and confidently make your siting decisions.
Also, consider creating a school siting committee made up of district representatives and community members to provide feedback about potential locations for new schools. Getting community buy-in about the siting criteria will increase transparency around how the location of new schools was determined and make the community feel like their tax dollars are being well spent.
Tip 3: Be prepared for school attendance area boundary adjustments
Once you’ve picked the best site for your new schools, start getting ready for a school attendance area boundary review. Boundary reviews are often contentious and stressful for the district and the community, so the more thoughtful planning you can do prior to beginning the review process, the better. I recommend a consensus-based and data-driven approach to mitigate most opportunities for tension between your district and the community. Good data will be easy to incorporate since you already did a lot of the legwork when you created your long-term facilities plan.
To engage the community, be transparent, ensure buy-in throughout the boundary review, and develop a plan to collect feedback on what the community feels is important when it comes to school district boundaries. Feedback can come via open houses, stakeholder focus groups, or online surveys. Once responses are in, analyze them for common themes and create a list of core community values you can use to inform how boundaries are redrawn.