(ST. JOSEPH, Mo.) With a $107 million school bond up for vote in the April election, battle lines have been drawn over new proposed boundaries for the St. Joseph School District's two high school model.
“They need to just keep it the way it is because it’s working and you don’t want to ruin something that’s already working,” said Rayne Spoonemore, southside student.
With a potential new high school comes new boundaries. The Board of Education handed off the duties of drawing new lines to a demographer with two goals in mind: fill schools to capacity and balance students on free and reduced lunch as equitable as possible.
The demographer split the district in half along Highway 36, North and South.
“We considered, do we divide the town East and West? Do we divide them North and South? So, we used East and West first with I-29 and found out that on the East side of I-29, there’s not near enough kids to fill a high school,” said Tami Pasley, Board President.
If the bond passes April 6th, southend students and some midtown students will go to a renovated Central High School and not the state-of-the-art facility proposed for the now empty American Family Insurance building. The boundary split has raised questions on the economic disparities between students drafted to the new school versus Central.
As a district facing 71% free and reduced lunch, the board said the drafted boundaries are as balanced as they could be.
Pasley said, “While it’s important to be as equitable as we can in free and reduced lunch, there are some constraints there that we can’t control which is where our neighborhoods are and where we have pockets of poverty and wealth. The one thing we can control is the equity in education the kids are offered.”
The board said drawing district lines with a goal of filling schools to capacity gives high school students the same educational opportunities not being seen now. Pasley said with the three high school system, students are not receiving equal opportunities to take advanced courses.
“With the student population at Central, it’s not hard to get 20-25 kids to take a class. At Lafayette and Benton, maybe three students will sign up,” said Pasley.
Regardless of further educational opportunities, some students on track to attend Benton High School- which would be converted to a middle school along with Lafayette High School- said it's less about opportunities and more about tradition.
“I don’t want to have to go to Benton as my middle school. It wouldn’t feel right,” said Miguel Hernandez, Hosea Elementary School student.
Some community members asked the board to flip the boundaries where southend students attend the transformed school and northside would go to Central. Pasley said the board could do that, but it's unlikely.
“Why would we not flip it? Well, I guess my question is, why would we if the professional said, ‘Here’s how I would do it if this were my school district,’” said Pasley.
If the bond doesn't pass, the Board of Education has Plan B. Board officials said they'll move towards a two high school system regardless, but with Central and Lafayette. No new high school would be built and Benton would still be converted into a middle school.