Thursday, February 29, 2024

Choice and Rationing Needed After School Closures

Don't Fence Us Out!

In the Google Street View above, the fence around Dartmouth Elementary is in the foreground, and houses that are newly zoned to be outside the Dartmouth attendance zone are in the background. Right across the street from the school. This can't be the best solution Richardson ISD can come up with for needed school consolidation. I'm here with a better idea.

On Tuesday, I wrote a long blog article ("Musical Chairs with RISD School Closures") expressing disappointment that the math behind my simple solution didn't add up. I had a plan to reassign students from the closure of Springridge Elementary in Richardson ISD that didn't have the ripple effect of displacing 113 students at Dartmouth Elementary. It didn't work because there simply wasn't enough excess capacity at schools surrounding Springridge. I'm back today with a different plan.

RISD's stated claim of "Project RightSize" is that the plan has a "People-First Focus". I'd like to offer an alternative plan that places people first. It still consolidates Springridge with its "partner" school, Dartmouth. It doesn't impact Jess Harben, Mark Twain, or O. Henry. It saves the district the same amount of money. It even adds students to Yale Elementary, which seems to be a critical RISD goal of any such solution. It gives families some choice over the decision of where their children go to school. Not all families will get their choice, but this alternative negatively impacts fewer families than the RISD proposed plan does. It's people-first.

My solution is to do the logical geographical thing and enlarge the Dartmouth attendance boundary to include the former Springridge attendance boundary. Call the new attendance zone DME/SRE for now. Don't lop off the northern slice of DME/SRE to forcefully reassign those Dartmouth families to Yale. Instead, knowingly leave the newly enlarged DME/SRE with more students than Dartmouth can accommodate. Handle the excess through some combination of choice and rationing.

First, offer all students in DME/SRE the option of attending Yale Elementary. I have no idea how many families would accept this option. And I don't think RISD does, either. If it's more than 113, then voilĂ , problem solved. Dartmouth can handle everyone left.

What if you don't attract 113 students to Yale? Then you adopt a system of rationing. Everyone in DME/SRE needs to apply to attend Dartmouth. Use a lottery system to decide who gets to attend Dartmouth. Note that RISD forecasts continued attendance declines over the next five years (as far out as the demographer projects). So however painful the newly enlarged attendance boundary might be to service with just one school, the pain will get less each year as the need for rationing drops, maybe to zero. Note that my plan doesn't eliminate the pain for Springridge families or for Dartmouth families. It rations it, equally for all, which is fair.

RISD might want to consider a so-called grandfather clause exempting students who are already enrolled at Dartmouth, thus reducing the total number of students evicted from their current school. That might seem like it introduces unfairness into the rationing system, unfair to Springridge families, but it reduces the total number of families disrupted by this consolidation. That could be seen as the greater good for the greater number. A people-first goal should strive for that. Over time, as Dartmouth students grow up and leave for Apollo, the number of grandfathered students each year will drop until eventually everyone in the DME/SRE attendance zone participates in the lottery equally. (I can't find this confirmed in the Project RightSize plan, but I believe a grandfather clause is being used for students enrolled at Liberty Jr High from the old Springridge attendance zones. A similar transition for students already enrolled at Dartmouth Elementary should be adopted as well.)

A side benefit of this alternative plan is that it doesn't mess with attendance boundaries. Changing boundaries is proving to be hugely unpopular, just as it was in the past when even the possibility has been broached.

So, how about it? I think choice first, rationing if necessary, until the problem corrects itself, is a better people-first solution than the current plan.

There may be other solutions out there in the community just waiting to be surfaced and explored. The structure of the "Listening Meetings" the RISD is holding is good at presenting information about the proposed plan, but is not conducive to collaboration in finding other solutions. I don't want to see information meetings go away, but I'd like to see RISD arrange a second set of meetings more conducive to two-way discussion and collaboration.

"Handle with feeling,
Combining choice and ration,
To put people first."

—h/t ChatGPT

Related: Musical Chairs with RISD School Closures


texquill said...

Excellent suggestions! Unfortunately, they don't overcome the issue of people's resistance to change. The only way this will work is if the elected Trustees have the fortitude to ignore the loud voices of persons who subscribe to "Not In My Backyard" and to thoughtfully consider the future of RISD's students and of the district's taxpayers.

Mark Steger said...

A reader on Facebook objects to the impact of a lottery system on house prices. They also object to a grandfather clause. They also object to the cost of busing children to Yale.

A lottery with a grandfather clause is still a lottery. In year 1, it will apply to all Springridge children and all Dartmouth first graders. Most Springridge children will still get into Dartmouth. Each year thereafter it will apply to fewer children, and the balance across the legacy areas of the new attendance zone will be more equal. The grandfather provision can be eliminated altogether in five years. The only reason I suggested it at all is a way to reduce the number of children ripped up from their schools the first year.

As for the impact of a lottery system on buying or selling a home, that's a real concern. That would persist for as long as there are more children in the attendance zone than Dartmouth can hold. Attendance trends are still downward. If I were selling a house, I'd emphasize the "choice" part of the plan. If a potential buyer needs certainty, I'd emphasize that their children can attend Yale. Under the RISD plan, there's no choice. Live across Yale Blvd from Dartmouth and you're for sure going to Yale. That's not a selling point either.

The busing objection is valid. With RISD's proposed boundaries, they don't have to provide busing for any children. That cost alone may be enough for RISD to reject my proposal.

Mark Steger said...

The only solution I can see that eliminates busing is to give all students who live more than 2 miles from Yale a guaranteed seat at Dartmouth. That's approximately all students who live south of Spring Valley Rd. In my amended plan, that means the northern half of the old Springridge attendance area and all of the old Dartmouth attendance area would be subject to assignment to Yale through a lottery system.

Mark Steger said...

The RISD plan will displace 483 children from the only elementary school they have ever known. I know the pain many will go through. My proposal uproots 275. I contend that a plan that uproots 275, not 483, is objectively better by that one criterion. I also know that's only one criterion and in the end, it won't outweigh all the other factors.