Officials said a change to Conroe ISD zoning affecting the neighborhood of Fosters Ridge will reduce crowding at Bush Elementary School, and a demographics study set to begin this year will help determine whether a bond referendum is needed in the next 18 months for future districtwide facility needs.
The attendance boundary change taking effect for the 2022-23 school year will send 94 students at Bush Elementary to Deretchin Elementary—an additional 1.3 miles away from the Fosters Ridge neighborhood north of FM 1488 off Old Conroe Road, said Chris McCord, assistant superintendent of operations at CISD.
Many parents at Bush were taken off guard by the zoning change, said PTO President Caitlin Reeves in a phone interview. Reeves said she learned about the rezoning May 4.
“[Last] Wednesday they said, ‘We can’t fit the portables, we don’t have the space,’” she said.
According to information prepared by the district to answer frequently asked questions, Bush has a capacity of 800 students. It was projected to begin the 2021-22 school year with 820 students and now has an enrollment of 951 students, placing it at 118% capacity, according to the district.
McCord said the Fosters Ridge neighborhood had been considered for rezoning in 2019, but the current zoning was kept in place as long as possible to accommodate students.
“The Bush campus doesn’t have the physical space inside and outside of the building to allow you to have the flexibility that Deretchin has,” he said.
In addition, he said the district did not want to remove trees, encroach on parking spaces or place portables in playground areas.
Reeves said one issue parents have had with the change was that it was not determined until so late in the school year.
“It had to happen; we’re busting at the seams,” she said. “The district knew we were close to 950 [students]. ... I don’t know why they did not look into measuring and portables so families could have been told in March.”
McCord said there are no other schools in the district being eyed for immediate zoning changes, but the district monitors and evaluates schools on an ongoing basis.
“It is our hope that this most recent rezone will enable the Bush facility to accommodate students for a while based on the rezoned patterns,” he said.
Another issue for parents, Reeves said, is that Bush is a K-4 campus, but Deretchin is a K-6 campus. Bush students normally go to Mitchell Intermediate School after fourth grade.
“It’s difficult that they will rezone from K-4 to K-6,” Reeves said. “They bought where they thought they were going to K-4, and then [to an] intermediate [school].”
McCord said parents of Bush students entering grades five or six in the 2022-23 school year will have the option to request Mitchell Intermediate for their school, and transportation will be provided to those students in the upcoming 2022-23 school year. However, the transportation commitment for those students would not extend into their sixth grade year at Mitchell in 2023-24, he said.
The issues of enrollment growth are likely to persist in the region, McCord said.
“Even growth within the last year has far exceeded expectations from an operations standpoint,” McCord said of Bush Elementary.
The 94 students moving to Deretchin from Bush make up the current projection, but more students will be zoned to Deretchin as they move to the area, he said. The county is experiencing rapid growth, he said.
“Montgomery County is a great place to live, and areas within out district have been cited among the 10 fastest cities growing in the U.S.,” he said.
Although Fosters Ridge is not within the boundaries of The Woodlands Township, The Woodlands was named the No. 1 place to live in the U.S. by the website Niche for two consecutive years.
“I would say that’s a factor, [but] it’s worth adding that each family has their own story coming to CISD. ... We are happy that they have chosen us," McCord said of the region's attraction.
This growth means that in addition to facilities planned through a 2019 bond referendum, another bond referendum could be required to meet future district needs, he said. McCord said a demographic study by Population and Survey Analysts is planned to begin this summer or early fall, after which the board could decide to move forward with forming a bond committee.
“A bond issue could potentially occur within the next 18 months if we were to move forward,” McCord said. “We would use a bond committee that includes community members, and they would analyze what facilities would be needed, where they would be located and what grades those would serve.”
However, availability of land is also an issue, he said. Obtaining parcels of land large enough for a school in the areas where they are needed is a challenge, and he said the district is continually looking at those options.
Reeves said she believes a new K-6 school on the FM 1488 corridor could help alleviate some pressures.
“It can take three years from proposing a school and a bond to getting it built,” she said. “We’re going to be busting at the seams.”
Other issues identified by PTO members include the need for a gym at many schools, the reliance on portable classrooms, a need for additional school counselors and playground upgrades.
For now, Reeves said many parents are frustrated by the way in which the rezoning was communicated.
"I think that’s where my frustration has lied in all of this; yes, rezoning is necessary, but let’s communicate better."
The next meeting of the CISD board of trustees will be held at 6 p.m. at 3205 W. Davis St., Conroe, on May 17.