‘Rezoning is painful.’ Lexington residents upset over draft plan for new middle school

Bonita “Bunny” Baldwin and other homeowners in Lexington’s Tuscany subdivision on Thursday attended a public forum to find out why under a draft school rezoning plan they aren’t being assigned to a nearby new middle school.

Instead, the latest tentative proposal says students living in Tuscany in Hamburg — where homes have recently sold for between $610,000 and $1.2 million, according to real estate records — will continue to be assigned to Crawford Middle School.

Mary E. Britton, the new school slated to open in August 2025 on Polo Club Boulevard, is about 2 miles away from Tuscany, and residents say a new road would soon let students easily walk there. Crawford is about 4 miles away and has a below-average academic performance in the state’s accountability system.

School rezoning, also called redistricting, is an issue that has historically caused an outcry from families in Lexington worried about their children’s education and their property values

“Rezoning is painful,” Steve Hill, Fayette Schools’ Pupil Personnel Director, told the audience Thursday.

“These conversations are tough.”

Residents at the meeting said the Summerfield and Westwind neighborhoods near Tuscany are also not assigned to the new school under the draft, remaining at Crawford.

Under the latest proposed rezoning scenario, Crawford, Edith J. Hayes and Morton middle schools are the existing schools that would be affected in addition to the new school.

Elementary and high schools in Lexington are not being rezoned under the initiative.

As new schools are built, the Fayette County Board of Education’s School Zoning Committee considers changes in attendance boundaries to even out the student population, according to the district’s website. The group is made up of parents, community partners, district administrators and school leaders. The Fayette School Board has the final say on the committee recommendation.

One parent at the forum at Frederick Douglass High School asked why the Zoning Committee had held multiple meetings about the plan for Mary E. Britton Middle School since March without involving residents.

Hill said rezoning scenarios were not ready until now.

“I’ve not tried to hide anything,” he said.

Hill told families Thursday night he had received about 100 emails from families who had questions about rezoning.

Regarding another area of Lexington, Marcus Patrick, who lives in the Woodhill neighborhood along New Circle Road, asked school district officials why the proposed plan has students in Woodhill attending three different middle schools.

Hill told the Herald-Leader on Friday that the Woodhill area has areas assigned to Morton, Mary E Britton and Crawford under the draft plan.

“The dividing of that community seems pretty significant to me,” said Patrick. He said it appears that students who live across the street from one another will go to different schools.

Hill said in the Woodhill proposal, district officials were just trying to balance schools.

Concerns about overcrowding

Baldwin says as it stands now, Tuscany is in the Crawford Middle School district. Tuscany is very close to Britton Middle School, she said.

“The new road that will open in the near future puts us a stone’s throw away and so close that Tuscany kids would be able to walk to school easily,” she said.

Hill said the projected number of homes left to be built in Tuscany is expected to overcrowd Britton.

Rezoning documents on the district website said if Tuscany were assigned to Britton, that Britton would be overcapacity within three years of opening in fall 2025.

Britton is opening with 800 students and has a capacity of 1200. It will be larger than other middle schools that historically have been built for about 800 students.

District Chief Operating Officer Myron Thompson told families that district officials do not want Britton to become so overcrowded that portable classrooms have to be added.

The Hamburg/Sir Barton area is scheduled to have more than 1140 additional housing units built between now and 2030, district officials said, a number that residents disputed Thursday night. They said building in Tuscany had halted.

Crawford Middle School would be underutilized and have a declining enrollment if Tuscany in the Hamburg/Sir Barton area were assigned to the new middle school, according to district rezoning documents.

Residents at the forum said the 43 current middle school students in Tuscany would not overcrowd Britton.

“We would like the board to gather current data, “ said Baldwin.

More local input sought

Neighbors are concerned about the district basing decisions on data from Davis Demographics, a California firm that works with school districts on their planning needs. That company is helping the district’s rezoning team devise scenarios to recommend for boundary realignment.

“We would like more local community input,” Baldwin said.

Hill said Davis Demographics data had been very accurate.

However, Hill said school district officials would revisit the data to see whether the plan should be changed.

“I’m certainly not saying it’s the final scenario,” said Hill.

Tuscany residents say their neighborhood is racially diverse if the school district is trying to accomplish racial diversity at Britton.

Crawford Middle

For the 2022-23 school year, Crawford received a color code of orange, which is the next-to-lowest possible performance in Kentucky’s school accountability system.

One parent at the forum said her two children had been academically successful at Crawford and she had had no problems with the school.

Another resident asked district officials to make improvements to Crawford because parents are hesitant to send their children there.

Hill said 20% of students assigned to Crawford go to other programs at other schools in the school district. Exactly how many students currently assigned to Crawford attend private schools in Lexington was not discussed at the meeting.

Hill said he understood the concerns that families expressed Thursday night.

“I do care about you and I care about your kids,” he said.

The school board is expected to vote on the plan in August.