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Elementary school boundaries will change

by Merrie Leininger

Between 60-219 elementary school students might have to say goodbye to familiar teachers and hallways due to a proposed school boundary change.

Douglas County School District Business Services Director Rick Kester said the problem stems from unanticipated growth at Gardnerville Elementary School. The school expects more growth in the area with 85 apartments opening soon on Elges Lane in what will eventually be a 300-unit affordable housing development. The school was designed to hold 625 students. Enrollment on count day this year was 639. Enrollment continues to grow every week with new families moving into Chichester Estates, Kester said. Projected enrollment next year is 677 students.

At the Jan. 9 school board meeting, Kester presented four options to the board. Part of the reason a new wing at Minden Elementary School was constructed this year was to provide space to move students from GES. However, Kester said, he has encountered some problems in moving students to MES.

Kester said such decisions should always consider five factors: Schools involved should be below their single-track capacity; the socio-economic mix of student populations should be taken into consideration; the boundaries should not split communities; and future growth should be considered so the boundaries are not moved again within a few years.

Kester introduced four options, which range from moving 60 GES students from Fish Springs and the Pine Nuts to MES to moving 142 GES students from TRE, Holbrook Junction, Double Springs and Bodie Flats to MES and 77 students from MES to Scarselli Elementary School.

Kester said there are now 70 to 80 empty seats at SES.

The option moving the largest number of students would also take advantage of the excess capacity at SES and align the elementary school boundaries with the Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School’s. West Valley and Foothill students would attend Scarselli as elementary students and Pau-Wa-Lu as middle school students.

This is also the only option that helps balance the percentage of free- and reduced-lunch students at the elementary schools. With this option, MES rises from 9.8 percent to 20.3 percent, still below the Valley elementary school average of 27.6 percent. GES drops from 35.5 percent to 33 percent. Scarselli would drop from 26.1 percent to 24.5 percent.

“It would seem that if Gardnerville Elementary’s free and reduced lunch percentage is not reduced with the current boundary changes, it may rise to the highest in the district in the future, as a significant portion of the potential residential growth in the GES attendance area is comprised of moderately and low-priced housing and affordable housing,” Kester wrote in his report.

Superintendent Pendery Clark said the percentage of free- and reduced-price lunches affects the schools because it increases stress on a school.

“There is a greater demand on the support systems of a school,” Clark said. “It affects levels of parent participation, activity at the school and, clearly, test scores. Compared to many other districts, our percentages are not at all high. But we would like to have schools more comparable. We see that as a continuing impact at GES.”

A public hearing on the issue is planned for the Feb. 13 school board meeting at Carson Valley Middle School. It’s possible the board will vote on the issue at that meeting. Kester said the options may be narrowed down by staff before the meeting. Copies of Kester’s report are available at the school district office at 751 Mono Ave. in Minden.