School zones likely to change

Plan proposes two new high schools in valley

One of the few sure things about redrawing school attendance boundaries is that some families will be happy with the changes while others won’t.

If the proposed school bond passes in November, a portion of the requested $185 million to build new schools would fund the construction of new high schools in the Appleton and Orchard Mesa areas.

School District 51 is in the process of hammering out what those reshuffled attendance boundaries would
look like, while trying to maintain balance in student population and the socioeconomic makeup across every school.

“We’re trying to honor as much of the traditional boundaries as we can,” Superintendent Tim Mills said.

Tinkering with the boundaries may be required even if the bond doesn’t pass, Mills said, as the district still will have growing student populations to manage.

Regardless of the bond outcome, any redrawn boundaries are far from finalized and will require additional work, Mills said.

The 2004 bond earmarked $4 million for land acquisition, Mills said, and the district purchased 30- to 40-acre tracts of property in the Appleton, Orchard Mesa and Redlands areas as future high school sites.

“Three factors are key about school location,” Mills said. “Community schools, area development and the least amount of busing.”

The district’s demographer, Shannon Bingham, determined the Grand Valley is diversifying its economy and is projected to grow in employment from 64,493 to 86,499 by 2016.

A high school in Orchard Mesa addresses the growth the area is projected to experience, Mills said, and pulls students from Central’s district via the 29 Road bridge.

The Appleton site draws new development in the Redlands and east of Fruita, which becomes more contained to the west, he said.

Attendance areas are meant to be small to reduce student travel time, Mills said.

The Redlands site, along Wildwood Avenue, was not chosen because it would require too much development prior to construction and was too isolated to adequately serve any other area other than the Redlands, Mills said.

The board of education adopted a targeted enrollment of 1,100 to 1,400 students, Mills said. With six high schools, projected head counts at each school would fall within that range until at least 2017.

With the exception of Palisade, which is hovering near 1,000 students, the current enrollment range is 1,700 to 1,800 students, Mills said.

The percentage of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, an indicator of socioeconomic status used by the district, should also balance at an average of 26 percent, he said.

“We think this covers us for a long period of time,” Mills said.

But the transition won’t be easy.

During public meetings held in August to discuss the bond, Cathy Story, who is campaigning for the bond with the Friends of District 51, said changing attendance boundaries is an “emotional, gut-wrenching” process for parents.


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