Northeastern students could be moved to two schools within district

Northeastern Middle School in Manchester, Tuesday, Oct. 30, 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Some elementary students from York Haven and Conewago elementary schools would instead attend Mount Wolf and Orendorf elementary schools under a proposed realignment.

Northeastern School District projects that ongoing residential development will cause elementary-age populations to grow within the boundaries of York Haven and Conewago elementary schools — which are already pushing capacity.

On the other hand, there's extra capacity at Orendorf and Mount Wolf — based on factors such as birth rate decline, area development and age of students.

The district is proposing a redraw of its elementary school boundaries to maximize existing capacity.

"Transition’s always hard, and change is hard," said Superintendent Stacey Sidle.

The district tried to avoid  making the changes as long as possible, but it’s not fiscally responsible to add teachers and update buildings — creating a tax increase — if there is still space in the district, she said.

A committee presented the first version of its proposal to the board at a public town hall April 23 — a 56-page presentation sharing results of a feasibility study that covered enrollment trends, area developments and other factors affecting growth.

Sidle said few parents attended, but those she had heard from wanted to make sure it would be a public process, and some were concerned a decision had already been made.

More:Northeastern population shift means reshuffling of elementary students

"We absolutely understand that it’s hard when your child has been at a school two years and has had a very positive experience," Sidle said.

Mount Wolf has smaller class sizes, so the Sherman Oaks neighborhood would be reassigned there from Orendorf — which would then have four extra classrooms. That would make room at the school for rural students from York Haven and southwestern Conewago Township students  who currently attend Conewago. 

Northeastern School District presented an early proposal for redrawing its elementary school boundaries at an April 23 town hall. This map from the April presentation shows dots that represent students within each of the four elementary school lines. Dots that differ in color from the circled areas represent students who would be moving to or registering at a new school.

Classrooms at Conewago and York Haven elementary schools are pushing capacity, and enrollment projections show growth would continue.

Third grade enrollment is much higher in those schools compared to Mount Wolf, which has the lowest sizes in all grade levels because of neighborhood change, the presentation states.

Per classroom, York Haven had 16-20 students and Conewago had 22-24 students in four classrooms in 2018. Mount Wolf had 13-15 per classroom in three classrooms, with two extra classrooms, and though Orendorf had 24-25 students in four classrooms, it also had an extra classroom available.

There are five active residential projects in those areas, according to the study, which would bring 88 students in K-3 and 298 total students to Conewago as well as 61 K-3 and 209 total students to York Haven.

Significant population growth in Conewago Township drove the district to redefine its electoral regions in the fall, and though Manchester and East Manchester townships had a boom in development from 1985-2004, Conewago built on solid growth during that time period with a significant increase within the last decade.

More:Northeastern schools: Fast-growing Conewago prompts redistricting

Mount Wolf flat-lined in development from 2005-2019, and York Haven has had negligible growth.

Andy Shaw, a parent of twin girls who will be entering kindergarten in the district next year, said he's concerned about long-term plans for growth and the tax impact of that growth if there's not enough revenue to even it out. 

The district already has one of the highest tax rates in the county, he said. Northeastern, along with Red Lion Area and Dover Area school districts, have the second-highest tax cap in the county, at 3.1%.

More:State caps on York County school district tax increases fall second year in a row

Reconfiguring boundaries works now because some schools are under capacity, but it's like "arranging chairs in the Titanic," he said.

Dover Area also is considering a realignment of its K-6 schools to two buildings each for grades K-2 and 3-5 as early as 2021 for capacity reasons. Superintendent Tracy Krum said there's a number of area housing and building projects — with even more in the planning stages.

Four of the district's elementary schools have inequitable class sizes, and Krum said either a realignment or redraw will have to be done eventually.

"We don't have the option of doing nothing," she said.

York Suburban officials also expect an influx of 300 students at the elementary level, but following a feasibility study, they do not plan to reconfigure district schools, according to March 18 meeting minutes.

Birth rate decline from the Great Recession in 2008 contributed to smaller class sizes in some schools, according to Northeastern's study. They declined by 10% in the district from 2009 to 2014 and by as much as 30% in other districts across the state.

Sidle is reasonably confident projections will stick, and slight fluctuations can be covered by transferring staff, she said.

"We’re hoping that we won’t need to really look at this again for another eight to 10 years," Sidle said.

Northeastern is already working with K-3 principals and its transportation company to make sure the transition is as smooth as possible for students, she added.

The proposal will be on the  agenda for the board's Monday, May 6, meeting as a report, and Sidle is hoping to see a decision by May 20 so families waiting to register for kindergarten won’t have to be in limbo any longer.