Gilbert Public Schools is considering feedback from the public after three open-house meetings about the district’s boundary change proposal for the 2019-20 school year.

The district is seeking a better enrollment balance among its schools and a more orderly feeder-school system, district officials said.

But achieving a full balance is not the goal but rather balancing “in the best way possible,” Superintendent Shane McCord said.

“Trying to balance everything fully would cause a huge disruption in the district,” McCord said. “Looking at boundaries every couple of years from here on out and making tweaks here and there we think is our best solution. So starting with these proposed boundaries we think is a good start.”

The proposal came from a 33-member committee of board members, district administration, staff and parents. A final decision could be made at the Gilbert Public Schools governing board’s Jan. 22 meeting.

District officials said families who wish to continue sending their child to the school they are at now, rather than moving with the boundaries, would be allowed to open enroll there. McCord assured parents all such boundary exceptions would be approved, though some people at meetings expressed skepticism the district would honor that in perpetuity.

Furthermore the district has committed to providing transportation for those boundary-exception students to their school of choice for the 2019-20 school year. However, after that the families would have to provide their own transportation as continuing the service would not be fiscally responsible, McCord said.

Local neighborhood concerns

At the first public meeting, held Dec. 5 at Greenfield Junior High School, many Val Vista Lakes residents attended to protest the boundary change that would have their children attending Gilbert High School rather than Highland High School.

“It’s just not fair to send our students to a lower-performing school than where they’re currently assigned,” said Emily Marx, a parent of a first-grader at Val Vista Lakes Elementary School. “Not only that, of course, many people who don’t have students in the district will also lose value in their home. Their property values will go down when their school assignment changes to a 7 out of 10 [rating] versus a 9 out of 10-ranked high school.”

McCord, who once taught at Val Vista Lakes Elementary, said the pushback from Val Vista Lakes residents was not unexpected.

“Val Vista Lakes is a phenomenal community with phenomenal families and students,” he said Dec. 5 after a meeting at that community. “They’re passionate, and I love that about them.”

Families from Settlers Point Elementary School had similar concerns about a change that would take their children from Campo Verde High School to Mesquite High School. Like the Val Vista Lakes parents they expressed worries about Mesquite’s lesser rating and smaller curriculum and extracurricular offerings than what is at Campo Verde.

Other factors

Some other parents expressed concern about the short time frame the proposal is in front of the community before it goes to a vote of the board.

“It took you two years, and you’re giving us three weeks, four weeks?” Val Vista Lakes parent Wendy Zamora said. “It really does not seem fair. It seems like this might be something that affects so many people, and so many schools, and so many children and so many home values that this might be something that you need to look at with the families and the community more than just your 10 parents on your committee for a lot longer, maybe six months or a year even. It really is way too fast.”

McCord said the timing is driven by the time needed to make the changes before registration if the proposal is adopted.

Parents of special-education students wondered at the Dec. 10 meeting about whether their child’s Individualized Education Program would be honored when changes are made. McCord assured them they would be, but NYT Deli head chef W Rieth, whose business employs children with autism and other disabilities, said the district is flirting with disaster in this area.

“Stability and consistency is what makes these kids successful,” he said. “People flocked to Gilbert because these are good programs in Gilbert for special needs. … Things like this can put such a huge wrench in this thing [IEPs] that these people work so hard to put together for these kids.”

After the committee considers the feedback and any changes from that, the next step is a work-study session for the governing board Jan. 8.