As Houston-area school districts grow, parents grapple with possibility of re-zoning

Many students in the Houston area are going back to class in brand new buildings this year.

For some school districts, opening facilities every year has become the norm, but for others, rapid growth is just beginning to affect them.

Cleveland ISD is trying to keep up with all of the students enrolling by building new campuses and adding on to others.

"We're the number one fast-growth school district in the state, percentage wise," said Cleveland ISD Superintendent Chris Trotter.

Forty-five miles northeast of Houston, Cleveland may not be the first to come to mind when you think of a swelling student population.

RELATED: Cleveland ISD asking voters to approve $198M bond to help it keep up with student population growth

But executive director of the Fast Growth School Coalition, Dr. Guy Sconzo, says infrastructure development is now accelerating the growth of school systems beyond the first and second ring suburbs of Houston.

"When you think of a relatively small district that has been stable the whole time and then you wake up one morning and suddenly all these new students are enrolling and there are more new developments happening, it's a shock to the system," said Dr. Sconzo. "It really is."

A former superintendent of Humble ISD, Dr. Sconzo now advocates for the state's most rapidly expanding districts.

He says within the last five years, Cleveland ISD, Waller ISD, Splendora ISD, Dickinson ISD, and Willis ISD have been added to that list.

"Growth is a wonderful thing. It's an exciting thing, but it does bring its own set of challenges," said Dr. Sconzo.

Parents, he warns, need to brace for how the districts try to keep pace.

"They need to buckle up and get ready for the ride," said Dr. Sconzo. "Because rezoning is going to happen more regularly than it's ever happened."

Kym McMorries knows rezoning battles.

As a mom of a Fort Bend ISD student, she has fought the district twice in the last five years, and she wouldn't be surprised if it happens again.

"Academics come first to us," McMorries told ABC13. "I want my son to have the best available opportunities."

The district has changed attendance boundaries many times over the years.

SEE ALSO: Fort Bend ISD attendance boundaries won't change after all: superintendent

Fort Bend ISD Superintendent Dr. Charles Dupre recognizes rezoning is challenging for families.

"Change is hard no matter what," said Dr. Dupre. "The trend in our district was to grow very rapidly in the 90s and 2000s, but now we are kind of reaching the end of our significant growth series."

In Cleveland ISD, the student population has doubled from 3,800 to 7,600 in the last five years, and it is projected to double again in the next five.

"It's going to be a lot of movement and a lot of growth patterns that we have to create," said Trotter.

In order keep up, Trotter believes rezoning will likely be necessary every year to 18 months.

Dr. Dupre tells parents to choose a home in an area where you would feel comfortable sending your child to any of the schools.

"Buy as close to that school you want to go to as you can," said Dr. Dupre. "That will help. But there's still no guarantee."

McMorries has advice of her own.

"You need to show up at meetings, and you need to ask about the plans, and you need to force that to happen before you allow your children to be rezoned to schools that are underperforming," said McMorries.

Fort Bend ISD is currently reviewing applications after inviting parents and community members to serve on a new committee.

The School Boundary Oversight Committee will include citizens from each high school feeder pattern.

They will collect community input on proposed rezoning changes, and selections will be announced in September.

ABC13 reached out to Dickinson ISD, Splendora ISD, Waller ISD, and Willis ISD as well.

A spokesperson for Dickinson ISD told us there are not any current plans pending for rezoning students, but growth is a challenge for the district.

Director of Communications Tammy Dowdy sent us a statement that read in part:

"...We are continually evaluating facilities and enrollment numbers to ensure we have the space needed to accommodate the growing number of students. Dickinson ISD voters have most recently approved two bond referendums to help accommodate the need for additional facilities, including $56 million in 2014 and $70 million in 2016. These two bonds provided an elementary, middle school, junior high and a ninth grade center at Dickinson High School. With the addition of these new campuses, elementary and middle school attendance boundaries were rezoned for 2016-2017 and junior high boundaries were created in 2018-2019 as the district grew from having one junior high to two junior high schools. Our Citizens Facility Task Force will meet later this school year to study current student enrollment, district demographic projections and facility needs to put together recommendations for future bond referendum planning."

Splendora ISD has only rezoned once in March 2009 when Piney Woods Elementary School opened, but Director of Communications Deitra Johnson says rezoning is anticipated going forward.

"We are currently working with Population Area Survey Analysts (PASA) to develop zoning options for the 2020-2021 school year. With the opening of a new elementary school in 2020, we will have four elementary schools that will house PK-6. We anticipate the zoning options be presented to the public in October/November of this year and be presented to the Board in January/February 2020."

Waller ISD told ABC13 the outcome of a November bond election will determine whether new facilities are opened.

Sarah Marcus, the Director of Communications, says Waller ISD last rezoned in 2016 when the district opened H.T. Jones Elementary.

"Students are always the priority in Waller ISD. With so many new faces coming to us, our challenge is to get to know each one in order to provide individualized instruction for all. Small class sizes are a priority especially at the elementary level. Last year, we did not submit any class size waivers. We have increased our instructional staff this year in order to keep low student:teacher ratios. We focus on the whole child and partnerships with parents, families, community, and local businesses to provide for all their needs. We are committed to community schools in order to keep our family atmosphere. Rezoning can be a scary word for families. We will not rezone until it is necessary based on capacity vs. enrollment at our schools."

Willis ISD Director of Communication Jamie Fails sent ABC13 the following information:

"We just completed a demographic study with a company that did a comprehensive look at our area in terms of housing, development, student numbers, etc. We are in the process of forming a long term planning committee to explore the need to call for a bond in May 2020 to continue planning for the growth heading our way. We are almost complete with a bond from 2015 that added a $39.4M Career & Technology Center to our high school - that alone is a huge part of our growth, as people are moving here for our center which rivals any CTE center in Texas. We have an elementary school that will break ground in early 2020 if not sooner, and we are looking for the next bond to include a Pre-K center and possibly another campus. The last rezoning would have been around 2009 when our 5th elementary school opened. Our number 6 that breaks ground soon will require a rezoning, but that isn't planned for open until August 2021."

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