School boundary changes are some of the most emotionally wrenching decisions that school board members must make. Redrawing the lines — and therefore sending some children to another school, often farther from home — causes real anguish for parents and students.
Nobody likes to be the architect of such disruption. But we can’t lose sight of what happens if boundaries don’t change to reflect changes in enrollment patterns, which is the unpleasant reality confronting the Fargo School Board.
Enrollment at Discovery Middle School and Davies High School is growing along with the population on Fargo’s southern edge. Within a few years those schools will reach full capacity. Overcrowding is not a recipe for educational success. Meanwhile, enrollments are falling in schools further north.
It makes no sense to build a new school when existing schools have excess capacity. The discussion, aided by a task force that has spent months studying the issue, has focused on various options for changing the boundaries to alleviate the pressures on Discovery and Davies.
The 28-member task force has come out with its recommendations, and the top choice would alter boundaries for students in southwest Fargo who reside west of Interstate 29 and between 32nd Avenue and 52nd Avenue South.
Students in that area now are within the boundaries for Discovery and Davies, but if the school board goes along with the task force’s recommendation, would instead attend Carl Ben Eielson Middle School and South High School, both further north.
Understandably, some parents are upset that their children would have to attend schools further from home. Under one boundary change scenario, for example, a parent said his children would have to travel 5.3 miles to Carl Ben, while Discovery is only 2.6 miles away.
Emotions are running high. Some overwrought parents have made comments that have made some task force members feel threatened; some told a school board member they were afraid to attend meetings.
A lawn sign in the Kennedy Elementary neighborhood disingenuously argued, in bold letters, “Change is Not Necessary, No Boundary Change.”
Change is necessary, as anyone who has seriously examined the issue knows, but there is time for methodical change. School officials have set no official timeline for implementing any new boundaries, but school board members have said the time is likely four to six years in the future.
We can disagree about how rapidly school enrollment will continue rising at Discovery and Davies, but that part of Fargo is indisputably growing and poised to keep going. Consider that one emerging subdivision alone, Bison Meadows south of Davies, could add 340 single-family home lots.
Let’s not forget the underlying priorities that guided the task force’s recommendations. Topping the list: ensuring that educational opportunities and class sizes are equitable across the city’s 20 schools.
Rounding out that list: Striving for balance, including socioeconomic mix; shaping school attendance areas in ways that are tax-efficient, and achieving stability.
Those considerations get to the heart of equality of educational opportunity. That, and efficient use of tax dollars, should drive policy.
The task force suggests that the new boundaries could come with a “grandfather clause,” allowing students who already attend a school to finish there. That’s a good idea; it would do a lot to soften the transition, and would allow continuity for those students.
We don’t envy the Fargo School Board’s job in redrawing school boundary lines. But we know this: It has to be done, for the good of the greatest number of students. And it should be done sooner rather than later, so the transition is gradual and orderly instead of abrupt and chaotic.