South Austin residents grapple with future school boundary changes to reduce Baranoff Elementary overcrowding

Students from Baranoff Elementary School in South Austin head home April 18, crossing Gatling Gun Lane.

Students from Baranoff Elementary School in South Austin head home April 18, crossing Gatling Gun Lane.

Image description
Baranoff Elementary
Image description
Baranoff Elementary
Image description
Baranoff Elementary
Correction: A quote from Jennifer Littlefield, a member of the Boundary Advisory Committee, has been removed because Slaughter Lane does not meet the criteria for a hazardous route condition and students within two miles from school would not be eligible for bus service, according to the district.

Baranoff Elementary School, one of the highest scoring schools in Austin ISD, is currently operating with a student enrollment of about 126% of the school’s permanent capacity.

Located within the Village of Shady Hollow neighborhood in Southwest Austin, parents and cars converge on the residential area each day to pick up and drop off students, creating safety concerns and traffic for local residents and students.

"We have some homeowners who have their driveways blocked,” Village of Shady Hollow resident and Baranoff parent Jennifer Kratky said. “Parked cars block wheelchair access ramps and park at curbs that are painted in red and too close to intersections that impact sightlines."

To give enrollment relief to the Baranoff facility and create a “right-sized” campus, Austin ISD’s Boundary Advisory Committee has been working to create scenarios that would lower enrollment at the school to between 75% and 115% capacity, said Beth Wilson, the district’s executive director of planning and asset management.

Some of that relief will come when the future Southwest Elementary School is scheduled to open in the 2020-21 school year, which Wilson said will provide some relief. As AISD prepares for that new school, staff is evaluating rezoning scenarios that could help balance enrollment in the entire area, including those involving Baranoff.

The district is creating similar maps for over-crowded Cowan Elementary School, which show the school could begin to send some of its South Austin students to under enrolled Boone Elementary School in 2020-21, she said.

"We were asked by the superintendent to, as we were creating the new boundary for Southwest Elementary School, look at other overcrowding in the area to see if we can do anything to help that situation along," she said.

Ten preliminary boundary options were presented at a BAC meeting April 1, which outlined possible neighborhoods that currently send students to Baranoff as candidates to move to nearby Kocurek Elementary School. Kocurek is currently only at 84% of its capacity. To view proposals and impacted neighborhoods, maximize the following map and toggle through the options.

Some of the proposed maps split the neighborhood of Shady Hollow, sending about 35 projected students to Kocurek while the rest of the neighborhood stays at Baranoff. Other neighborhoods including Oak Parke, Brodie Springs, Palomino Park and Wyldwood-Kellywood could send all local students to Kocurek in various scenarios. Additional scenarios could be presented in May, and a final scenario will not be presented to the district until the fall, Wilson said.

“Keeping our neighborhood together is important,” said Shady Hollow resident Jacob Youngblood, who hope to continue to be zoned to Baranoff. “When my kids go swimming [at the neighborhood pool] there are going to be kids in the neighborhood that they don't go to school with and don't know who they are.”

Residents living in neighborhoods that could be subject to rezoning are also concerned about student safety traveling to Kocurek along busy Slaughter and Brodie lanes, longer commutes and gaps in performance ratings between Baranoff and Kocurek.

Mixed concerns

Overcrowding has been a long-standing issue in South Austin at Baranoff, Cowan and Kiker elementaries, Wilson said.

At Baranoff, portable classrooms are used to house excess students. While individual classes are not overcrowded, facilities such as the school cafeteria, libraries and auditorium are undersized for the current enrollment, Kratky said.

However, residents who could be relocated to other schools say projections show that enrollment is dropping naturally. With Southwest Austin Elementary School opening in 2020, some said they believe the proposed boundary changes are too extreme.

“Looking at some of [the district’s numbers] a lot of the projections look like the problems solve themselves without such a large change and without taking out such a huge chunk off the Baranoff zone,” Youngblood said. “You can balance the numbers better and get close [to 115% enrollment].”

Shady Hollow, Palomino Park and Oak Parke parents—who currently take students south on Brodie Lane to Baranoff—are also worried about traffic heading north on Brodie and safety on Slaughter.

“Our children would navigate the Brodie, Slaughter intersection on a daily basis to get to and from school,” Shady Hollow parent Christy Reddish said. “That intersection is the site of numerous accidents, and some of these scenarios are suggesting kids can walk to Kocurek, which is incredibly dangerous.”

Wyldwood-Kellywood resident Colette Ford said the eight Baranoff students in her neighborhood likely would not make a meaningful difference to school enrollment. However, moving those students to Kocurek could “cause a huge disruption to the families in our neighborhood, who have attended Baranoff since [the school’s] beginnings.”

“This would force us to make a northbound left turn onto Brodie Lane without the aid of a traffic light or even a four-way stop in peak [morning] traffic,” she said.

Reddish said the biggest concern, especially for Shady Hollow residents, is keeping the neighborhood together at one elementary school.

Benefits of right-sized campuses

Wilson said the goal of rezoning is to create right-sized campuses.

"When you have overcrowding your whole day is affected, starting with safety during drop off in the morning.  Running kids through the cafeteria all day long and having portables [creates challenges]," Wilson said. "That's not great for kids, and it puts a strain on the whole school."

Wilson said portables take up open space that students could otherwise use for recreation, and the district’s goal is to move more students from portables into traditional classrooms. Once a school population is under 115%, the district can begin removing portables for a campus, she said.

"I always feel like many of our schools do a lot of good, even in those overcrowded conditions, but I always feel that its better to be in a school that's right-sized," Wilson said. “It's safer and much easier to get through the logistics off the day which benefits our kids."

Similarly, schools that are under-enrolled could see benefits from adding new students, Wilson said. Additional students could bring increased revenues and programs available to a school that is currently under enrolled.

Kratky said she does not know which part of the school’s current boundary should be changed, and that she supports neighborhoods that want to stay whole. But she said relief needs to be found for the school.

“Residents around the school feel very strongly we need overcrowding relief,” Kratky said. “Test scores may not necessarily reflect overcrowding but the school experience for the families and students who attend is affected."

Moving forward

Wilson said the Boundary Advisory Committee will hold two more meetings in May to discuss proposals for Baranoff and Cowan. Upcoming meetings could introduce additional map scenarios, including those that could move Baranoff students who live in Olympic Heights and Hillcrest to other area schools as alternative options.

Over the summer, the committee with develop an official rezoning plan, which will be presented to the public for further feedback in early fall, she said. The AISD board of trustees could take action on the changes in December, she said. Updates from the district can be found on the district's boundary change page.

Those that oppose the boundary changes have created the We Are Baranoff website, and Reddish has created the facebook page Keep our Kids at Baranoff.

The district is currently evaluating all of its zoning maps to better utilize district facilities and to "reimagine" the district. Wilson said the decisions in Southwest Austin related to the new elementary school and the surrounding schools is a process that is independent from the changes planned in the rest of the district.

“It's unfortunate, but when [looking at changing boundaries] someone's not going to be happy about the situation, either because they got to move or because they didn't get to move [to a new school],” Wilson said. “We're hoping that this process doesn't string on forever so people can make decisions and people know what to expect.”

By Nicholas Cicale
Nick has been with Community Impact Newspaper since 2016, working with the Lake Travis-Westlake and Southwest Austin-Dripping Springs editions. He previously worked as a reporter in Minnesota and earned a degree from Florida State University.


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