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What you should know about the proposed school zones

Wednesday, October 9, 2013 Leave a Comment

I did a little homework on the proposed school zone survey that SUN sent out and called some people who are in the know.

I spoke with the Eastbridge member of that SUN Education Subcommittee on boundaries committee, Wood Byrnes. I did some Q&A with a member of the SUN Education committee, Mark Mehringer, the President of SUN, Joe Philips, a Stapleton realtor and founder of Stapleton Scoop, and a couple of other realtors.  Here's what I found out.

Q: If you don't have a kid under age 5, you're probably thinking - like me - that this issue doesn't affect you. Why should I care about school boundaries? 
A: Right now, we have four (soon to be five) elementary schools in Stapleton, and Stapleton residents are guaranteed a spot at one of them. You are not guaranteed a spot at the school closest to you. DPS has historically under-projected the number of kids moving into the neighborhood, which results in some schools being overcrowded and some being... not.

Q: My own experience of the situation went like this: There was a huge bubble of 5 year olds who needed kindergarten seats in 2011. My son was one of those kids. We live in Eastbridge, and were waitlisted at our first choice school, Bill Roberts, two years in a row. When Swigert Elementary opened, we got in there (although it was not our first choice) because Swigert had the room to accommodate the overflow... 6 kindergarten classes! The folks who bought homes in Central Park West, thinking they would be walking to school, soon found out that Swigert was so full it could not accommodate them. 

Meanwhile, Isabella Bird is going to open in Eastbridge (where Swigert was originally going to be) but all the kids in Eastbridge are already in other schools, and who wants two elementary schoolers in two different schools?

Why was it set up that way?

A: The Green Book, which is the vision of Stapleton, outlined a system of school choice and DPS agreed, according to a member of the SUN Education Committee. You can check out the History section on SUN's website for more.

Q: What's the big deal? I think we should have boundaries.
A: A majority of Stapleton residents think so, too - according to a SUN poll taken in the spring of 2013. So they put together a committee of folks representing each neighborhood to come up with a recommendation that would be fair to everyone. DPS put their list of requirements into the mix. That's what the SUN survey is about. The proposed solution must have a 2/3 consensus,  or it will not be presented to DPS.

Q: Is DPS going to put in boundaries regardless of what we say, or don't say? What if there is not a 2/3 consensus?
A: According to Mark Mehringer, President of SUN, "DPS has said that they will not institute boundaries whether or not SUN submits a proposal.  If we don't submit a proposal that is acceptable to them, then they will stick with the status quo. If we don't get 2/3 consensus, we don't submit a proposal."

Q: Why would this solution NOT be fair to everyone?
A: I sat down with the Eastbridge subcommittee representative, Wood Byrnes, to get more insight into this, and here's how it could affect all of us.

(A) School zones will affect our home values. If you live next to a desirable school, your home values will reflect it.
(B) These are four very different schools: two are traditional DPS neighborhood schools, and two have innovation status. We're not comparing four similar school curriculums - each one is very different. Throw High Tech Elementary in Conservatory Green into the mix, and there's even more diversity. The current choice process keeps our schools engaged in healthy competition. 
(C) School zones changes the united neighborhood of Stapleton into five separate neighborhoods. The Green Book set out to make Stapleton different from other neighborhoods.
Q: So this could affect home values?

A: Joe Phillips, a realtor specializing in Stapleton with Synergy Real Estate and the author of the informative website, Stapleton Scoop, says this: "After studying the proposed changes I don't think the elementary "zone" proposal would have a large impact, if any, on real estate values within the Stapleton neighborhood.  If you dig in and really get to know what is being proposed you'll see that it's not going to give kids in a certain zone a large leg up on kids that aren't in that school's zone.  Where you live will be one of the factors taken into account but it won't come into play until after the sibling preference, where younger siblings of existing kids in that school are admitted.  This sibling preference takes up a lot of the available seats in a school.  After the sibling preference takes most seats only 25% of the available remaining seats will be allocated to kids in that zone and then the remaining 75% will go to a lottery including any Stapleton kid who wants into the school regardless of which zone they are in.  

Since there is no guarantee that someone in a zone will get into that zone's school I think it would be unwise for a home buyer to make a buying decision based on the zone it's in.  I could see it having a tiny impact on values because if you have two homes that you like equally as a buyer and one is in a zone that you prefer it may be the issue that determines which home you purchase.  If we were to go to a firm boundary system where all kids in an area go to one school, making geography the only factor, I think that would have a larger impact on home values.  If that were the case then I think buyer's would drive up the prices of the homes in the desirable boundary, similar to what we see in other areas of the metro area."  

Read Joe's analysis on Stapleton Scoop.

Q: Will this affect middle schools?
A: According to Mark Mehringer, this will not affect middle schools.

Q: I'm still not sure.
A: SUN wants your input. Please come to one of these meetings:

Public Meeting Details:
Both of these meetings will allow for time to go over the proposal, as well as for questions and comments from the community.
October 10, 6:30pm at DSST
October 17, 6:30pm - SUN Education Expo at Bill Roberts