As Council Rock ramps up to 2018-19, superintendent presents timeline for redistricting, elementary school footprint decisions

The steel frame of the new Newtown Middle School is beginning to take shape behind the school in Newtown Township. (photo by Jeff Werner)

COUNCIL ROCK >> Over the next 20 months the district will be ramping up to a major realignment of its schools, including a K-12 redistricting impacting every school in the district, a new middle school configuration and the potential closure of an elementary school beginning with the 2018-19 school year.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Fraser on Thursday night outlined the timing for what he termed a "child-centered approach" to master capital planning that will begin with a decision on elementary school consolidation in 2017 and culminate with the opening of the new Newtown Middle School and the renovated and expanded Holland Middle School and a one-time-only redistricting of students.

"Any and all aspects of this master capital plan must align with and point to the 2018-19 school year. The why behind that is because we unequivocally do not want to redistrict any student twice," said the superintendent. "This is the child-centered approach to master capital planning."

Under Fraser's roadmap to 2018-19, the district will progress through three primary phases - a decision on the district's elementary school footprint, an analysis of the district's non-school facilities with an eye toward consolidation and development of a K-12 redistricting plan.

According to Fraser's timeline, work would begin immediately on the first phase with a comprehensive analysis of building capacities and current, historic and projected enrollments, and the potential for targeted full day kindergarten, all with an eye toward potential consolidation beginning in 2018-19.

"We have 10 elementary schools. Is 10 the right number or not?" asked Fraser referring to the number of elementary schools now serving the district.

Public meetings devoted to potential consolidation would begin in February and continue into the spring with a final board vote in June on the elementary school alignment for 2018-19.

Phase two - an analysis of non-school facilities - will run on a parallel timeline with public meetings in the spring and a board vote in June on whether to re-purpose or sell the Richboro Middle School, which is slated to close beginning in 2018-19 when the new middle schools come on line.

Fraser said if the building is repurposed, it could house district programs now using space at the Law School Admissions Council building in the Newtown Business Commons. The district currently pays LSATs $438,000 annually in rent for its Sloan School, A.C.H.I.E.V.E. and Twilight School programs.

Other options include moving its maintenance department to RMS and closing its Twining Ford Road facility and potentially relocating the district's central administrative offices from the Chancellor Center to the former middle school.

"I can tell you now that chances are that not all three of those pieces are going to fit into the Richboro Middle School, but perhaps two of those would fit into the existing building," said Fraser.

The third phase - a comprehensive K-12 redistricting - would begin next summer with the formation of a committee made up of representatives from every school in the district.

The committee would meet through the fall with public meetings and a board vote scheduled for December 2017, or January 2018 at the latest.

During the late winter and early spring of 2018, Fraser said the district will implement a plan to ensure a smooth transition for students and families.

"There will be a lot of work that our schools will need to do as a result of redistricting to help transition students and transition families as part of this process," said Fraser.

After listening to the timeline, board member Denise Brooks commended the superintendent for clearly defining the path forward in a simple and straight forward way.

"These are very difficult topics to talk about. It creates a lot of tension in the community because so much of it is unknown," she said. "What you've done here really defines this clearly.

"People can now wrap their heads around it and say, 'Okay, this is going to be difficult, but by the end of 2017 I will know where my child is going to go to school.’ That's going to help psychologically in the process and help us communicate better," said Brooks.

Board member Ed Tate said throughout the process, open communication and a continuous dialogue with the community will be key.

He also floated the idea of bringing in some outside help to assist the administration through the process.

"This administration is really lean," said Tate. "My concern is there aren't the people hours to get this done without some sort of assistance. We might need to spend some money to support this process to do it properly. It's the board's responsibility to make sure there are enough resources so this critical process is done right."

Board member Dr. Bill Foster said it also will be especially important for the board and administration to engage with and keep community leaders apprised during discussions involving the future of the Richboro Middle School in Northampton Township and the Chancellor Center in Newtown Borough.

The next step in the process, said Fraser, will be to develop a detailed timelines of meeting dates and key votes.

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