CHANGES INCLUDE CLOSINGS, NEW SCHOOLS, NEW ATTENDANCE ZONES
ALDINE – Major changes in the organization of schools in the Aldine school district were presented to an audience of citizens by Superintendent Wanda Bamberg and Deputy Superintendent Archie Blanson. The luncheon meeting was held last Thursday in the offices of the East Aldine District.
Bamberg explained that the school trustees had voted in favor of the district becoming a DOI, or District Of Innovation as defined by a new bill from the Texas Legislature, and also to proceed with closing or repurposing four existing schools.
The DOI will allow the district to determine more issues at a local level rather than through the state, she explained. These issues include flexible instructional schedules, exemption from class sizes, exemption from a 90% attendance requirement, and allowing an early start date of the school year. For instance this year classes will start one week earlier, on August 21st instead of the state mandated August 28th.
Bamberg went into some detail about a “reconfiguration” of the district, covering the structure of school age groups, attendance boundary changes, and the closings, repurposing, and opening of school buildings.
The 2015 Bond Referendum provided $798 million to pay for most of these changes, Deputy Superintendent Blanson said. These include 3 new middle schools, 2 new EC/PK/K schools, a new CTE high school, replacement campuses for Johnson and Francis Elementary, and other renovations and upgrades.
Bamberg said that four schools would be closed: Bethune Academy, Mendel Elementary, Francis Elementary, and Johnson Elementary. However, Bethune students would be moved to Anderson, Mendel students to Escamilla, and Francis and Johnson students would get a new campus close to US59 north of the beltway.
Part of the Reconfiguration plan calls for elimination of all Intermediate Schools. Grades would be reorganized into new or repurposed buildings, as follows: EC/PK/K into one separate building; Elementar grades 1-5 in one building; grades 6-8 together in one building; 9th grade alone; and 10-12 in high schools. Most teachers would be moved around the district, into new buildings that serve their grade levels. Some teachers would move up or down in grade levels.
This realignment or Reconfiguration is meant to enhance education and provide students with better contact with their peer levels, and teachers. In addition, the district would have better control in vertical relationships between schools and the district. The so-called “stands” will be simpler and more direct. She illustrated this with charts showing howing lower grades feed into a choice of upper grade schools. By eliminating intermediate schools, students make one less transition in the educational and social journey.
Bamberg noted that the new schools being built will be larger than previous campuses, to obtain more efficiency. In turn, elementary schools will be smaller, and attendance zones will be adjusted.
Although the district has faced exponential student population growth for many years, Bamberg noted that this school year there was actually a decrease of over 1200 students. She said this was the first time it happened in the last 25 years. It will temporarily affect the budget, with less state reimbursement, but is expected to return to a growth mode in a year or two.
Blanson said that most of the building changes, and new buildings, are being paid for with the 2015 Bond money. When voters approved this, it also came with a small increase in taxes. Bamberg said that the regular district budget would also have to increase in coming years, due to the fact that more schools require more instructional and support staff. Bambert said there are other budget considerations that might affect taxes, such as a so-called “voucher” system being considered by the current Legislature. She said if adopted, it would no doubt affect available monies for the Aldine district.
The need for replacement of some of the buildings is obvious, Blanson said. The average age of Aldine’s buildings is over 40 years old, and some of them quite old, such as Mendel 63 years old, Johnson 49 years old, and Francis 62 years old.
Besides maintenance of older buildings, other considerations are that Mendel is in a floodway, and Francis is not in a safe and secure neighborhood. Students for the new school will be bused from their homes, he said.