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Boundaries to be redrawn to balance New Richmond schools

Two of New Richmond's elementary schools are nearing capacity, forcing the New Richmond School Board to look for ways to alleviate some of the problem -- that means redrawing attendance boundaries.

When Hillside Elementary opened in 2008, district administrators decided to keep enrollment low at Paperjack Elementary. Currently, Paperjack, an 18-room school, is a two-section school, meaning there are two kindergarten classes, two first grade classes, two second grade classes, etc. Two classrooms are also used for special education.

"We're not filling that space right now at Paperjack," said Brian Johnston, director of building and fiscal operations for the district. "Both Starr and Hillside are starting to fill, and we need to start looking at bringing Paperjack up to a three-section school beginning next year. To do that, we're going to have to expand its attendance area."

Currently, Starr houses most students in the northern part of the city. Hillside houses students in the southwest, and Paperjack covers students in the southeast.

"The (northeast) is a pretty sparsely populated area," Johnston said. "Expanding Paperjack up there picks up a lot of area for Paperjack, but it doesn't pick up a lot of students."

Instead, it's likely that Paperjack's boundaries will be redrawn to expand into Hillside's southwest territory, Johnston said. Then, Hillside's attendance boundaries can be re-drawn to help alleviate some of the crowding at Starr.

The new boundaries will only affect incoming kindergarteners, Johnston said. Older students currently enrolled in a particular school will be allowed to stay at that school, even if the new boundaries put them in another school's coverage area.

"They have that choice of staying at their current school or moving to the new school," he said.

Kindergarteners, on the other hand, will be required to attend the school they're assigned, regardless of whether they have an older sibling at another school.

Drawing a new boundary map would buy the district four years, Johnston said.

In four years, when Paperjack is full, the district will also be dealing with any growth from the proposed Stillwater River Crossing Bridge.

"A question we were struggling with is where's the growth going to come in the next three years," Johnston said. "We can only deal with what we know at this point."

So far, the growth has been in the western part of the district, he said.

"That's why Starr and Hillside are feeling that pressure," he said.

A final boundary map has not been finalized; however, decisions will need to be made in the next month, Johnston said.

"It needs to get done before kindergarten roundup. Before letters are sent to parents," he told the board.

The next regular school board meeting is slated for 7 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 18.