CUSD to redraw school boundaries

Think you know where your kid’s going to school? Think again.

In anticipation of redrawing school attendance boundaries, the Chico Unified School District is considering contracting with a private firm to perform a “demographic analysis.”

The $35,000 study would use geographic information system (GIS) technology to map Chico in such a way that neighborhoods could be examined to determine how schools could best be filled and balanced. The study would also include enrollment projections though 2013-14.

The need for redistricting is due in part to growth that’s skewed the population in different parts of the city even as enrollment has declined in the CUSD, administrators said, but they also want to be ready in case the CUSD has to act on a proposed money-saving measure: closing schools and sending those children elsewhere.

Drawing district boundaries is always controversial, as parents accuse the CUSD of gerrymandering the lines to include or exclude certain ethnic or socioeconomic groups. For many years, however, the CUSD has allowed children—via a “Form 10” process—to attend the school of their parents’ choice, as long as it has room.

Superintendent Scott Brown said he’s worked with the Sacramento-based firm of Jack Schreder & Associates since the early 1980s, and, “they have never let me down. … We need this information, and these are the people to provide it.”

“One of the hardest decisions to make is to spend money to plan,” said consultant Cheryl King in pitching the contract Jan. 21 to the CUSD Board of Trustees. King and her daughter, consultant Jamie King, live in Chico, and Jack Schreder, a former Shasta County superintendent of schools, lives in Redding.

King said that using its software and data sets, her firm is able to manipulate many layers of information to discern such things as future development, types of housing prevalent in a neighborhood, ethnicity, grade level, test results and so on. King showed a map of a Bay Area district that mapped how many students in a particular attendance boundary were attending schools other than their neighborhood campus, and which schools they had chosen.

Jack Schreder & Associates originally quoted the price for the study at $58,500, but working with Randy Meeker, the CUSD’s assistant superintendent in charge of business services, they removed a preschool survey and two years of historical data and knocked it down to $35,000—money that will come from development fees and other funds whose use is restricted to facilities matters. The firm charges $125 an hour.

Trustee Anthony Watts, who as a meteorologist is well-versed in the computer programs used by Jack Schreder & Associates, asked if the CUSD could instead buy the “base map” and plug in the other data itself, but Cheryl King said Schreder & Associates usually charges $10,000 to license out its special software.

The board will vote on whether to approve the contract at its Feb. 4 meeting. If the trustees approve it, the firm could have the base maps ready by the end of March.