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Public school group shows idea for elementary school changes

With six colors and nearly a dozen glossy maps, a Columbia Public Schools group showcased its idea for new elementary school boundaries in the south of town.

The Enrollment Study Committee hosted its first public forum Tuesday night at Gentry Middle School. The group has worked since November to develop new boundaries for seven elementary schools in south Columbia when a new school opens to start the 2016-17 school year.

Dozens leaned in to look at the maps, one with the current boundaries of Fairview, Grant, Paxton Keeley, Mill Creek, Russell and Rock Bridge Elementary Schools next to a map of the group’s idea for new boundaries, including the new school located near Scott Blvd. and Highway KK. The new school, expected to be completed in May 2016, is projected to hold 650 students, according to the map provided at the meeting.

According to projections done by RSP & Associates in Kansas City, hundreds of students would move schools with the changes. Half of the district currently set to Rock Bridge elementary would go to the new elementary school. Each of the schools’ enrollment except Grant would drop below the buildings’ designed capacity.

“So you think about 25 kids in a classroom versus 21 kids in a classroom, that’s only four kids,” Walt McManus, a member of the 24-person committee, said about the proposed plan’s effect in school. “But the teachers will tell you that’s a huge difference in the services they can provide.”

McManus said the group tried to fix other flaws they saw in the current district lines. They also wanted to get school enrollments below the trailer threshold as well, a mission of the school district for several years.

McManus said they avoided changing any neighborhoods moved last year when the school district tried to lower enrollment at Mill Creek Elementary in 2013.

McManus admitted setting the boundaries is a large responsibility. The group involves parents of families with children at each of the affected schools. McManus said many families may feel intimidated by the prospect of moving schools, which is why the public forum process is important to him as a member of the committee.

The group will hold another public forum Wednesday at Smithton Middle School starting at 6 p.m.

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