New School Boundaries Set Up Hood River County School District for Success
Client: Hood River County School District
Location: Hood River County, Oregon
About the Project
Boundary reviews are challenging for school districts large and small, requiring complex geographic and demographic analysis and enrollment forecasting techniques to balance enrollment throughout school facilities in the near and distant future. In 2018, FLO took the lead on the technical components and facilitation of Hood River County School District’s boundary review process, successfully assisting the HRCSD in creating new school boundaries. The new boundaries were approved without revisions by the HRCSD school board on May 22, 2019.
Meet the Client
HRCSD serves the rural and semi-rural communities of Cascade Locks, Hood River, Odell, Pine Grove, and Parkdale. Its five elementary schools (grades K-5), two middle schools (grades 6-8), and one high school (grades 9-12) serve about 4,000 students. As HRSCD began the boundary review process, some schools were at or over capacity while others were under-enrolled, a result partially attributed to a previously lenient school transfer policy. Recent construction of an elementary and middle school had alleviated some overcrowding, but a district-wide issue of imbalanced attendance remained. Under the existing school boundaries, students would experience increasingly uneven curricular and extracurricular opportunities, highly variable class sizes, and the district would experience costly operational challenges in transportation and food service over time.
Student Enrollment and Land Use Assessment
To kick off HRCDS’s boundary review, the FLO team used spatial planning principles and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software to analyze student enrollment trends and projections within the geographic context of student attendance areas. The student enrollment assessment included the evaluation of historical enrollment trends, capacities, demographic and socioeconomic characteristics (e.g., participation in the free and reduced lunch program), and other key variables as defined by the District. The land use analysis evaluated population trends within the district, along with current and future land use trends that may affect the geographic distribution of students. We used these analyses to inform enrollment forecasts and an initial set of boundary modifications we, in close coordination with HRCDS staff, developed (more about that below).
To ensure the District’s new boundaries would accommodate changes within the next ten years, we created ten-year student enrollment forecasts for the District. The forecasts, coupled with an evaluation of the District’s current student enrollment, provided valuable insight into the growth or decline of student enrollment at any given school and was incorporated into boundary scenario modeling during the boundary review committee process. The committee used the five-year time horizon to inform their review of boundary scenarios.
We developed “Springboard Proposals”—preliminary drafts of new boundaries—that served as a starting point for the Boundary Review Committee. Each Springboard Proposal employs a data-driven decision framework, via GIS analytical tools, to ensure robust and defensible boundary modification scenarios which are based upon the District’s core values and principles, balance enrollment to the extent possible, follow logical attendance area boundaries (e.g., highways, natural barriers), and ensure that transportation needs will not be exacerbated.
Boundary Review Committee Meetings
Key to the success of a boundary review is the participation of the community, and boundary review committee meetings are a core aspect of community participation. HRCSD’s Committee, made up of district parents and staff, was tasked with modifying the Springboard Proposal, interacting with the public at open houses, and presenting new boundary recommendations to the school board at the end of the boundary review process. Over a three month period, FLO staff facilitated six committee meetings. FLO directed the meeting agenda and provided technical support for a digital scenario modeling tool that allowed Committee members to ask geographic questions that pertain to a current or proposed attendance area or to a specific neighborhood. Our boundary modeling software allowed FLO to analyze boundary changes and their effects on facility enrollment and summary demographics during the meetings, helping the Committee test out different boundary scenario options and quickly arrive at the most effective scenario options.
Public Open Houses
Public open houses are crucial to the success of any boundary review. These meetings provide transparency and an opportunity for parents/guardians within affected areas to discuss the boundary scenario with their fellow community members on the Boundary Review Committee. Community members provided feedback on the proposed boundaries both at HRCSD’s public open houses and through submitting comments to the HRCSD’s website. At the conclusion of each public open house, the community comments were compiled and made available to the Boundary Review Committee for consideration as they continued their work updating boundaries. A team of FLO staff attended each public open house to help answer technical questions about boundary scenarios. We also provided large-format maps to ensure the community had an opportunity to closely examine how boundaries would impact their neighborhood.
“FLO’s expertise and professionalism were indispensable throughout our boundary review process. We just couldn’t have gotten to such a well-researched outcome without their team. The process was professional, thorough, and of great value.”
-Dan Goldman, Former Superintendent
“I really appreciate the data-driven nature of the boundary review process because, rightfully so, boundary reviews can be very emotional for communities. Being able to inject sound data into the process allows for a more objective approach. We were able to provide the committee with on-the-fly enrollment forecasts, which in turn allowed them to make informed decisions while applying their local knowledge of the attendance areas. The Committee members were big-picture thinkers, many who had children affected by the boundary recommendations. I admire their final recommendation, which will ultimately provide a more balanced school system leading to an equitable educational experience for all students.”
-McKay Larrabee, Senior GIS Analyst