For that purpose, the board will hold a public hearing Monday evening, April 18, at Elizabethtown Middle School. The hearing will begin at 7 p. m. Those who wish can speak at the hearing, or they can submit questions and comments in writing for the board's review.
The board has long planned to address redistricting in the county. Through the years, population shifts have occurred, high schools have been consolidated, middle and primary schools have been reorganized, and school boundary lines have become antiquated. Last fall, the board decided the time had come to activate the process.
To help it achieve boundaries that are balanced a near as possible in terms of student numbers and race, to optimize the system's transportation system, and to best utilize the school facilities in place, the board contracted with the Operations Research/Education Laboratory at N. C. State University.
Over a period of months, the Education Lab studied the student population in the county in terms of total numbers, minority numbers, and location; studied the physical facilities of the system in terms of size and location; and studied the system's transportation needs.
It also utilized a computerized mathematical model for forecasting school enrollment and determining the best locations for possible new schools and how they will affect future attendance boundaries.
After gathering its data, the Education Lab met several times with a four-person committee of the board to finalize a proposed redistricting plan. That proposal was presented to the full board during a special meeting Thursday night.
Dr. Jeff Tsai of the Education Lab told the board Thursday that 164 "planning segments," averaging 35 students each, were formed in the county to help the computer program do its design work.
Dr. Tsai pointed out in his presentation that the two high schools in the county-East and West Bladen-are presently unbalanced both in terms of total student population and minority proportion.
Each school has a capacity of 1,000 students but at the present time, West Bladen has an enrollment of 920 students and East Bladen has an enrollment of 731 students. Additionally, East Bladen has 69.82 percent minority students and West Bladen has only 40.70 percent minority students.
The proposed new district lines would better balance those numbers. If the lines are approved as they are presently proposed, the East Bladen total enrollment would go up to 794 students with a minority population of 63.98 percent, and the West Bladen enrollment would drop to 842 with a minority population of 45.01. Also, total miles needed by buses to transport students would be less than it is now.
The new boundary lines required to achieve those numbers would bring changes of schools for 353 students, 229 of them minority. The geographic areas primarily affected would be much of the New Town section of Elizabethtown, and the Baldwin Branch and Happy Valley sections near Elizabethtown. All three areas are now part of the East Bladen district but, if the plan as proposed is adopted, all are destined to become part of the West Bladen district.
And, the Clarkton and Abbottsburg areas, which now are part of the West Bladen district but, if the proposed plan is adopted, would become part of the East Bladen district.
Board member John Clark on Thursday night voiced strong opposition to the possible reassignment of students in the Clarkton and Abbottsurg areas to East Bladen.
Clark pointed out that a line could be drawn between the two schools that would achieve a balance of total students numbers and leave Clarkton and Abbottsburg in the West Bladen district, and New Town, Baldwin Branch and Happy Valley in the East Bladen district.
However, he pointed out, and other board members agreed, the racial balance would still be outside the parameters sought by the board.
The proposed new boundaries for middle school districts would affect only 58 students, 28 of them minority. The proposed boundaries for elementary schools would affect 302 students, 158 of them minority.
The board members emphasized as they finalized their plans for the April 18 public forum that as of now the redistricting proposal so is just that-a proposal. No final boundaries will be drawn until the public is heard.
However, the board anticipates that it will adopt a final plan within the next month so that it can be implemented for the 2005-2006 school year.
The board agreed that in the case of the new high school boundaries, once they are finalized, students who are rising juniors and seniors will be allowed to attend their present high schools if they provide their own transportation.
The proposed new redistricting plan has been placed for public study on the website of school system. The plan can be accessed www.bladen.k12.nc.us/education. Click on the Redistricting button in the lower left side of the home page.