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Photo by Jon Anderson
Hoover school board meeting 3-7-16
Ron Dodson, an assistant superintendent for Hoover City Schools, points out locations on a school rezoning map during a meeting of the Hoover Board of Education on Monday, March 7, 2016. The school board approved the rezoning plan 4-0.
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Hoover school board 3-7-16
The Hoover Board of Education meets to consider a comprehensive school rezoning plan on Monday, March 7, 2016. The board voted 4-0 to approve the rezoning plan.
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Hoover school board audience 3-7-16
Roughly 90 people showed up for a meeting of the Hoover school board on Monday, March 7, 2016, during which the board approved a comprehensive school rezoning plan.
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Hoover school board 3-7-16 (2)
The Hoover Board of Education meets on Monday, March 7, 2016, to consider a comprehensive school rezoning plan.
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Photo by Jon Anderson
Hoover school board mtg 3-7-16
People line up to talk to the Hoover school board about a comprehensive school rezoning plan on Monday, March 7, 2016.
The Hoover school board voted 4-0 tonight to approve Superintendent Kathy Murphy’s proposal to redraw school attendance zones, potentially sending nearly 2,500 students to new schools in the 2016-17 school year.
The board spent nearly three hours listening to public comment and discussing the rezoning proposal before taking a vote.
Hoover school officials now plan to file a joint motion with the U.S. Department of Justice and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund to ask U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala to approve the rezoning plan so it can go into effect.
Most of the people who spoke tonight tried to convince the board to leave certain parts of the city in their current school zones, presenting arguments to back up why they should stay put. Others asked the board to at least “grandfather” students who were already attending certain schools so they could finish in those schools and only apply the rezoning to new students who moved into the area.
But in the end, the board approved the superintendent’s final plan as is, without further modification beyond changes the superintendent already had made herself following public feedback meetings.
Hoover school board President Derrick Murphy said rezoning is never easy, but it’s something the school district had to do. He and other board members had to make a decision they felt was in the best interests of children as a whole, he said.
The rezoning plan was developed collaboratively not only between Hoover City Schools staff, the U.S. Department of Justice and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, but also hundreds of people in the community who provided input into the plan, Derrick Murphy said.
For parents who are upset about being rezoned, Murphy said they can take solace that Hoover has great principals and teachers across the district.
“Every parent loved their school equally, and I understand that, but I know whatever school they go to, their kids will be taken care of and get the best academic and extracurricular opportunities out there,” he said.
School board member Craig Kelley said that in the absence of a federal desegregation court order that brought other parties into the negotiations, he feels certain the rezoning plan would have turned out differently. However, he believes the plan presented by the superintendent was the best plan to move forward for Hoover City Schools, given the goals of the desegregation court order.
One of his best friends lives in an area that is being rezoned, and if his friend had his way, his community would be left in their current school zone, but circumstances dictate that changes have to be made, Kelley said.
School board member Jill Ganus Veitch, a former state court judge who had lots of questions for Murphy and school board attorney Donald Sweeney, said she has concerns about the rezoning plan, but it’s much better than the superintendent’s first plan that was presented a month ago.
Veitch said she understands the concerns of parents who don’t want their children rezoned. But she voted in favor of Murphy’s revised plan because she is concerned that if the school board didn’t approve this plan, the federal court would approve a different plan that had a lot less input from the Hoover community itself and from people who don’t appreciate the diversity and openness that exists in Hoover.
Katrina Pyron, a resident of the Highland Crest neighborhood that is to be rezoned from Gwin Elementary to Trace Crossings Elementary, said her neighborhood is very disappointed in the decision by the Hoover school board.
She was very surprised to find out last week that The Preserve community would be allowed to stay at Gwin and be split apart from Highland Crest, which is right next door.
Highland Crest is the only neighborhood north of Al Seier Road that is being rezoned to Trace Crossings, she said. Parents will have to cross Interstate 459 and fight traffic on Alabama 150 to get to Trace Crossings, she said. That traffic is only going to get worse as Trace Crossings continues to develop, she said.
“I understand we have to rip the Band-Aid off at some point and do it (rezoning), but we as families have made decisions and we’re having that decision taken away from us,” she said.
She’s concerned about the impact the rezoning decision will have on property values, too. “New residents aren’t going to buy in our neighborhood anymore because of the rezoning,” she said.
Trent Cowsert, another parent from Highland Crest, said he’s concerned how the rezoning plan will give some schools a disproportionate number of children from low-income families, which often struggle with school more and sometimes bring down test scores in schools.
He’s concerned that if test scores start to slide at schools, residents will begin to migrate to the eastern and western portions of the city where there are fewer low-income families and leave the central part of the city, he said.
The rezoning plan is “almost like segregation instead of desegregation,” he said.
Superintendent Kathy Murphy said black students who years ago were rezoned to schools farther from their homes in an effort to spread out children from apartments more broadly across the city deserve an opportunity to attend schools close to their homes as well, and one of the goals of this rezoning plan is to accomplish that.
Rezoning some of those apartment complexes to schools closer to their homes will indeed increase the percentage of students from low-income families at some schools, but school officials plan to provide resources to help those children be successful, Murphy said.
Three Hoover schools at various points in the past have had more than half their students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, so that’s nothing new for Hoover City Schools, she said. This rezoning plan may just be bringing the issue to people’s attention more, she said.
Parents from Bluff Park Elementary whose children are set to be rezoned said they don’t understand why such small areas were carved out to be sent to Gwin and Green Valley elementary schools.
Kevin Speed, president of the Crest Cove Homeowners Association, said only five children in his community are being rezoned to Gwin and questioned whether it was really worth the disruption to families to move five children to a new school.
“It’s unnecessary,” he said. “It’s just not good for our families and for our community. I know y’all worked extremely hard on it, but this can’t be your best plan. It just can’t be.”
Emilio Cerice, another Bluff Park Elementary parent whose child is being rezoned to Green Valley, said 16 children are slated to be rezoned from Bluff Park to Green Valley, and it doesn’t make sense to people. That number of children will have less than a 1 percent impact on the demographics at either Green Valley or Bluff Park, he said.
Many families choose where they are going to live based on school zones, Cerice said. “That is one of the most important decisions a parent can make about their child. A lot of families are having that choice being taken from them.”
Kathy Murphy said she understands it’s hard for people to understand some of the changes.
“My role as superintendent is to look at the big picture, to look at the whole,” she said. In isolation, some of the changes may seem like small pieces, but “every change that looks small, when those changes come together collectively, had a larger impact.”
Murphy said she appreciated all the input from parents and the community, and each concern was examined and shared with the Justice Department and NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“We were able to implement a number of those options/concerns that were expressed to us, but there was just simply no way to adjust the plan in such a way that we could accommodate all of the concerns,” she said. We did go to our community. We did hear our community, and while we couldn’t make all the changes requested of us, I believe that we presented to them a very fair and a very transparent plan.
“The problem with the whole plan is that it’s rezoning, and rezoning means that someone is going to move,” Kathy Murphy said. “The advantage we have in Hoover City Schools is everyone loves their school, and they’re excited about their school and want to stay in their school, but rezoning is rezoning, and it dictates moves, and as a result of that, we’ve left some people very unhappy … Nevertheless, we had a charge and a task, and we’ve completed that this evening.”