Gilbert Public Schools boundary changes could be first of several moves

Boundary changes being studied Jan. 8 by the Gilbert Public Schools governing board could be the first of several changes made in phases, officials said.

Elementary Education Executive Director Jason Martin indicated the proposal in front of the board would only be the first phase of several as the district must address its shifting population.

Board Member Charles Santa Cruz warned that could mean closures or repurposing of schools in the future.

“I don't think by any stretch this board or future boards are done trying to adjust so that we can give parents, families and students the very best that we have offer in terms of educational environments and educational practice and education program,” Santa Cruz said. “As we look west to that very small number of students enrolled in many of our elementary schools and the density of the boundaries … I think there will be a need for us to take a look at what consolidation can occur in some of those population areas. That will be another phase that I think is evident.”

Divided opinions

Martin and Community Relations Director Dawn Antestenis presented information to the governing board during a work-study session Jan. 8. Antestenis said public opinion about proposed boundary changes for the district was closely divided online.

The proposal, which was the work of a 33-member committee, was unveiled to the public on the web Nov. 19, with three email notifications sent to district parents and families and a postcard sent to 69,000 households in the district.

Feedback was gathered online and at three public meetings in December. According to Antestenis, 134 comments were received online with 60 expressing opposition and 55 in favor. Seven others expressed they were neutral so long as the open enrollment is guaranteed. The remainder asked questions or offered comments not related to the proposed boundary changes.

Two of the public meetings had many neighbors affected by the boundary changes present to express opposition.

Additionally, one of the neighborhoods, Val Vista Lakes, presented the district Jan. 6 with a petition in opposition to the changes. That neighborhood, which sends students to Highland High School, would move to within Gilbert High School boundaries under the proposal.

Those favoring the changes said the changes made sense and gave the district better distribution of students.

Opponents expressed concerns about property values and unequal academics and programs at different schools.

Board member Jill Humpherys strongly defended the education level throughout the district.

“We have this idea that somehow a letter grade or ranking really tells what a school is, and I have to tell you, I think that’s bunk,” she said. “I totally feel like we have great schools in Gilbert in every area of our district, and the letter grade that those schools receive is more tied to the economic status of the students that attend the school than any other reason.”

Open enrollment

Superintendent Shane McCord said students affected by boundary changes could continue to attend the schools in the current boundaries under open enrollment. Furthermore, the district has offered to continue bus service for such students for one school year.

McCord added that the district is looking at a system that would allow parents to only have to fill out an open-enrollment form once, rather than annually, which was a concern expressed at the Dec. 10 public meeting at Mesquite Junior High.

A final decision is expected Jan. 23 at the board’s next meeting. That meeting was originally scheduled for Jan. 22, but the board postponed it one night so all five members could be in attendance and in on a decision.

The board took no public comment at the Jan. 8 work-study session, to the dismay of some audience members, but board members said they were willing to listen to anyone who contacted them online or by email and said public comment could be made at the Jan. 23 meeting.

Board members did not tip their hands as to how they would vote, with Humpherys saying she would not make a decision until she was on the dais Jan. 23 and had heard what her fellow board members and the public had to say.

In other business, the board elected Reed Carr as its new president, replacing Sheila Uggenti. Santa Cruz replaces Carr as board clerk.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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