AASD boundary changes anger parents

Brenda Dick’s daughter lost sleep when she had learned a school district rule that allowed her friend to attend Pleasant Valley Elementary even though she lives outside of the school’s boundaries might be taken away.

The outcome of a stressful April school board meeting was that students like Anna’s friend who currently attend schools through boundary exceptions were able to stay in their chosen schools.

But now, in the weeks prior to the start of school, Dick is learning that it’s no longer boundary students who will be moved to another school, but it’s students like Anna – who’ve been attending the schools they’ve been assigned – who must relocate from Pleasant Valley.

“The boundary students have their rights,” Dick said. “Where are my daughter’s rights?”

The redistricting of Pleasant Valley was a change made two weeks ago, Dick said.

Parents learned of it through a letter sent this week.

Dick’s daughter, a straight-A student entering sixth grade, will attend Penn-Lincoln Elementary this year because of redrawn boundary lines resulting from the closure of two elementary schools.

“It’s disgusting and unnecessary,” Dick said. “Move what you need to move with the schools that were closed, but leave boundaries alone. I pay taxes; I do what I’m supposed to do. Every parent needs to stand up and tell the school district to stop walking on our kids.”

For Anna – a girl who’s struggling because of recent deaths of close family members – looking forward to returning to her support at school, being a crossing guard at Pleasant Valley Elementary and traveling to Washington, D.C., on the school’s sixth-grade field trip meant some stability.

That has been torn away from her, according to Dick, who broke into tears several times during an interview.

“There is more than just ‘boo hoo’ my child is going to lose her friends,” Dick said, angrily.

She is concerned for her daughter educationally and emotionally.

Changes to original plans

Board member Tim Lucas said setting school boundaries was a daunting challenge for the board and administration.

“It’s truly tough to get the boundaries set. You want to make them reasonable in respect to geography,” Lucas said. “You want to keep kids in an environment they feel comfortable in.”

In March, district architect Vern McKissick had prepared parents in certain locations for boundary changes, which upset parents. But the final outcome is further upsetting some.

Since Jaime Genovese-Peterson’s daughter was in first grade, she has attended Pleasant Valley, but this year because of boundary changes, she has been assigned to enter sixth grade at Penn-Lincoln.

And next year, she is off to the junior high school.

“To me it’s unbelievable,” she said, “expecting her to adapt. If I lived four houses down, I’d still be with Pleasant Valley.”

Genovese-Peterson of Dysart Avenue said she showed up on school administrators’ doorsteps. She’s also spoken with school board members.

“Everyone I’ve talked with is very nice and understanding, but I don’t know who can make a change,” she said. “I’m going to keep trying every avenue before I give up.”

She refuses to enroll her daughter at Penn-Lincoln, saying it is a poorly rated school. She said she is considering cyber school for her daughter.

Parents of former Washington-Jefferson students are “all up in arms,” said Joyce Carper, grandparent of four children who formerly attended Washington-Jefferson Elementary.

That school was closed because less than half of its capacity was being utilized.

In March, Washington-Jefferson parents were told in a public hearing that “the cutoff line” deciding whether former Washington-Jefferson students would attend Logan or Penn-Lincoln elementary was between Fourth and Fifth streets.

That meant Washington-Jefferson children living on Third and Second streets would go to Logan Elementary. The close walk to Washington-Jefferson was convenient, but Carper looked forward to her grandchildren catching a bus to Logan.

The children of her neighbor have always attended Logan and ridden a school bus.

But plans changed. Carper’s grandchildren, three 9-year-olds (triplets) and a 6-year-old, are now assigned to Penn-Lincoln, she learned in a letter received this week.

Penn-Lincoln is almost exactly a mile away from their South Third Street home. It’s about the same distance away as Logan from their home. No bus transportation is being provided.

‘Tough to get

boundaries set’

Both Logan and Penn-Lincoln schools are within the 1.5-mile state-defined walking distance for all families who used to attend Washington-Jefferson, McKissick’s online presentation showed.

Because of state law, districts are generally not required to provide transportation within that distance. However, there are hazardous walking routes, as designated by the state, from the Washington-Jefferson neighborhood to both Logan and Penn-Lincoln schools.

The district is setting up crossing guards to make the walk to Penn-Lincoln safer.

“I walked to the former Lakemont Elementary School. My children [currently in their 40s] walked to Roosevelt Junior High School and then to the high school,” Carper said. “But now the way the situations are, people don’t shovel their sidewalks, there are dogs running loose, and what about the other places where there are not crossing guards?”

The closings of the two schools and related changes are projected to save millions of dollars within the next five years.

Districtwide, elementary student enrollment has declined from 4,900 students in the 1994-95 school year to 4,300 currently, McKissick said. Using a combination of birth-rate projections, he estimates enrollment will decline by another 100 students during the next decade.

However, for the Altoona Area district a decline of 100 students could be reversed over one summer, which is the case as Assistant Superintendent Mary Lou Ray prepares for the fall.

“The last numbers we had indicated an increase of over 100 students in our elementary schools,” she wrote in an email. “We do not have final class sizes at this time. I asked district registration to give me their numbers; they informed me that numbers are changing because of families moving and new registrations and withdrawals.”

Ray said school borders were adjusted since March because of the projected increase in enrollment, accommodating special needs students and transportation costs.

“Vern McKissick did not say that the boundaries he presented [in March] were in concrete, rather that transportation would determine the final boundary borders,” Ray wrote in an email. “Considerations regarding our special-needs students, along with final school capacity numbers, were also part of the process. Boundary borders were adjusted across the district. Decisions regarding boundary borders were carefully and thoughtfully determined to ensure what was best for all students.”

Ray said letters to parents with their child’s teacher and classroom number will be mailed next week.

The school board’s next meeting is scheduled for Aug. 19.