Photo by Erica Techo.
Parents stand in line to address Superintendent Kathy Murphy at a Feb. 18 school rezoning community meeting.
Nothing sends a mother into “mama bear” mode more than somebody messing with her children.
So when Hoover school officials talk about rezoning kids from one school to another, conversations can get pretty intense, pretty quickly.
Some Hoover parents say they are fine with the proposal to send more than 2,700 children to different schools next year because of proposed new attendance zones. Some, including many in the Lake Cyrus community, are even happy with it because it would keep their children closer to home.
But others, such as many parents in Trace Crossings and The Preserve subdivisions, are adamantly against it, saying the proposal would force their children to go to a school either farther away or outside their community.
Hoover schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy jumped right into the middle of the quagmire when she agreed to take the top job for the 10th largest school district in the state last year.
It’s not just that Murphy believe Hoover needs to rezone children to make better use of unused classroom space in certain schools and free up space for more children in high-growth areas. Hoover doesn’t have a choice, she said.
“There are no other options. This school district will be rezoned,” Murphy told parents at a recent community feedback meeting at Hunter Street Baptist Church.
Desegregation court case
The Hoover school district is part of a decades-old federal desegregation court case, and U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala is reviewing whether Hoover is complying with the mandates spelled out many years ago by the federal court.
The general consensus is that Hoover’s current attendance zones disproportionately negatively impact minority and low-income students, particularly those in apartments, by making them travel farther to get to and from school.
In years past, the federal court and U.S. Department of Justice were OK with Hoover shifting apartment complexes with higher concentrations of minority and lower-income students to schools farther away from their homes in order to better balance racial numbers at Hoover’s schools, Murphy said.
But the attitude has changed, and that is no longer deemed acceptable, she said.
So Hoover officials are trying to come up with their own plan that moves students back closer to their homes instead of having the federal court craft a rezoning plan for Hoover.
And Hoover officials join the court in wanting to make sure minority students are treated fairly, the superintendent said. “We love every child,” whether they come from a house or an apartment, whether they are white or black,” Murphy said. “When they come to us, they’re ours.”
School officials have said about 2,500 students would be shifted to new school zones under Murphy’s proposal. Plus, more than 240 students in grades 2 and 3 at South Shades Crest Elementary would be moved to Brock’s Gap, which would be converted from a school for grades 5-6 to a school for grades 3-5. That puts the total number of children who could be moved to a different school at 2,763.
However, that number likely will be less because Murphy has proposed to allow all students in grades 8-11 to be “grandfathered” into their current high school and to let all students in grades 1, 4 and 7 remain at their current school for one more year as well. Any parents who elect the “grandfathering” option for their children would not be provided school bus transportation.
When you move some students closer to their homes, other students have to be uprooted to make room for them. That upsets many people who have made big investments in homes, often times based on school zones.
Shane Solomon, a parent from The Preserve, said he and his family purposefully bought a home within half a mile from Gwin so their children could walk to school. Under the rezoning proposal, they’ll have to travel 3.8 miles and cross a busy highway — John Hawkins Parkway — to get to Trace Crossings, he said.
The federal court may not want apartment complexes to be treated as “enclaves” that are moved to a school farther away, but “we don’t want that for our kids either,” Solomon said.
Christi Finn, a mother of two from The Preserve, said Trace Crossings sounds like a wonderful school, “but we love Gwin.” Gwin already is a diverse school, with higher percentages of black and Hispanic students than the general population, Finn said.
Gwin parents also expressed concerns that the rezoning proposal would increase the percentage of students there from low-income families from 28 percent to 39 percent. Parents said they welcome the children, but it makes it harder for parents to raise money to meet needs at the school, and they worry that needs will go unmet.
Murphy said the school district is committed to providing more resources for schools with higher concentrations of students in poverty.
“We all know it costs more money to educate some children than others,” Murphy said. That’s particularly true for students from low-income families that often don’t have the same advantages and educational opportunities, she said.
Splitting up communities
Residents in Trace Crossings seem equally upset about the rezoning proposal, pleading with Murphy in community meetings to not tear up the fabric of their school so much.
Seventy-two percent of the 431 students at Trace Crossings would be moved to a new school next year because of the rezoning proposal, unless some took advantage of the 1-year “grandfathering” plan.
Shilpa Gaggar, treasurer of the Trace Crossings Elementary Parent Teacher Organization, said Trace Crossings was designed to be an all-inclusive neighborhood, complete with single-family homes, apartments, schools, churches, doctors, dentists and businesses all in the same community. Parents don’t think their community should be torn apart, she said.
“Deer Valley still goes to Deer Valley Elementary. Riverchase still goes to Riverchase Elementary, and Greystone still goes to Greystone Elementary,” Gaggar said. “But the majority of Trace Crossings will no longer go to Trace Crossings Elementary … We don’t feel it benefits our community or our school.”
Under the rezoning proposal, Trace Crossings also would be the only elementary school where students would be split apart to go to two different middle schools — Simmons and Bumpus. Parents said that’s not fair or beneficial to students.
If the rezoning proposal is approved as is, Trace Crossings would only be 71 percent full, parents noted. They don’t believe children in the Trace Crossings community should be forced to leave when there is still room at the school.
Former Hoover Councilman Jody Patterson, a home builder who built his home in Trace Crossings 22 years ago, said Trace Crossings was planned, marketed and developed as a package, complete with schools. U.S. Steel, the landowner behind the Trace Crossings development, donated the 40 acres for Trace Crossings Elementary with the full understanding that the school would be for the Trace Crossings community, Patterson said.
“I think it’s a terrible idea to mess with your neighborhood schools,” Patterson said.
City funding of schools
Trisha Crain, a longtime resident of the Green Valley community, said Hoover City Schools would not be having so many troubles now if the Hoover City Council in 2004 had not fundamentally changed the process for funding Hoover schools.
For fiscal 2005, the council voted to quit providing 16 percent of the city’s sales tax revenues to the schools each year. That decision, plus a smaller previous funding cut, cost the Hoover school system $78 million over the past 14 years, city records show. Crain said that money could have been used to build a new elementary school in Ross Bridge and a third high school.
The council in December voted to increase its financial support for schools by about $1.3 million or $1.5 million a year, but the city is still giving much less to schools than it once did. Even with increased funding approved in December, the city’s contribution to schools in fiscal 2016 will be nearly $8.1 million less than it would have been under the original formula.
“There are a lot of people to blame for us being hamstrung for the last 12 years,” Crain said.
Hoover residents have a chance in this year’s municipal election to make sure their local government is supporting the growth it has allowed, she said.
The next steps
School officials held five meetings to get community feedback on Murphy’s rezoning proposal, and Murphy said she will take the input from those meetings and other community feedback to craft a final recommendation to the Hoover school board around March 7. If a final proposal is approved, it will be submitted to the federal court for approval around March 14, she said.
The goal is to get a rezoning plan approved for the 2016-17 school year, she said.
REZONING: WHO WILL MOVE AND TO WHERE?
The following shows where children from certain neighborhoods would be rezoned to go to school under Superintendent Kathy Murphy's proposal. It includes new middle and high school tracks where changes are proposed. This is Murphy's original proposal and is subject to change before being presented to the school board and federal court for approval.
Bluff Park (35 kids rezoned)
► Crest Cove to Gwin
Deer Valley (292 kids rezoned)
► Lake Cyrus to SSC K-2/Brock's Gap 3-5
► Ridge Crossings to SSC K-2/Brock's Gap 3-5
Green Valley (237 kids rezoned)
► Alpine Village to Gwin
► Chapel Hill to Rocky Ridge/Berry/Spain Park
► Diane to Rocky Ridge/Berry/Spain Park
► Green Pine condos to Rocky Ridge/Berry/Spain Park
► Monte D'Oro to Shades Mtn/Berry/Spain Park
► Spring Aire to Rocky Ridge/Berry/Spain Park
► The Abbey at Riverchase to Gwin
► Villa Maria Apts. to Rocky Ridge/Berry/Spain Park
► Warringwood Heights to Rocky Ridge/Berry/Spain Park
► Willows to Gwin
► Woodmeadows to Gwin
Gwin (292 kids rezoned)
► Carousel Court to Green Valley
► Chapel Park to Green Valley
► Eden Oaks to Green Valley
► Highland Crest to Trace Crossings/Simmons
► Pinewood to Trace Crossings/Simmons
► Place at Galleria to Green Valley
► The Preserve to Trace Crossings/Simmons
► Treeline Court to Green Valley
Riverchase (169 kids rezoned)
► Barrington on the Green to Trace Crossings/Simmons/Hoover
► Chace Lake to Trace Crossings/Simmons/Hoover
► Quail Run to Rocky Ridge
► Southlake to Rocky Ridge
► Valley Station to Rocky Ridge
► Waterford Landing to Trace Crossings/Simmons/Hoover
► Waterford Place to Trace Crossings/Simmons/Hoover
Rocky Ridge (134 kids rezoned)
► Park at Deerfield Glen to Green Valley/Simmons/Hoover
► Wildwood to Green Valley/Simmons/Hoover
► Wood Gardens to Green Valley/Simmons/Hoover
South Shades Crest (197 kids rezoned)
► Falls & Woods of Hoover to Trace Crossings/Simmons
► Hampton Park to Trace Crossings/Simmons
► Park at Galleria to Trace Crossings/Simmons
► Renaissance at Gall. Woods to Trace Crossings/Simmons
Trace Crossings (310 kids rezoned)
► Creekside to SSC K-2 and Brock's Gap 3-5
► Lake Trace to SSC K-2 and Brock's Gap 3-5
► North Ridge to SSC K-2 and Brock's Gap 3-5
► Park at Hoover to Gwin
► Riverchase Landing to Riverchase/Berry/Spain Park
► Scout Creek to SSC K-2 and Brock's Gap 3-5
Brock's Gap Intermediate (136 kids rezoned)
► Berry Middle (125 kids rezoned)
► Bumpus Middle (187 kids rezoned)
► Simmons Middle (46 kids rezoned)
► Hoover High (185 kids rezoned)
► Spain Park High (175 kids rezoned)