Welcome to my school district

I think it’s a testament to my GROWTH as a peaceful and centered human that I have neither maimed nor belittled anyone (to their face, anyway) in our current school district. Why, just last year, what’s happening right now would’ve caused my head to explode in a stunning geyser of expletives and indignation! Instead, I am “gathering information” and “working through the proper channels” and “drinking a lot.”

And bitching to you, of course.

(Also, I am not drinking a lot. My mother once told me that anyone reading my blog would assume I’m a heavy drinker, but I beg to differ. Anyone reading this blog on a regular basis surely knows that my drug of choice is Ben & Jerry’s.)

Let me see if I can explain this without diagrams.

Actually, no. Screw that. We need diagrams.*

When we decided to move to this school district, last year, I had to learn all about the concept of School Choice. Where I used to live, you see, there was no choice. There was a school, and that was where your kids went. (Small town.) But in our new town, LO, there was CHOICE, and we were told that it was GOOD.

This diagram more or less represents** our district as it looked when we moved in.

[Some of you may remember that we came and visited the schools and selected which one we wanted, then did an insignificant little thing in BUYING A HOUSE ACCORDINGLY, then had to continue fighting for several months to get the school we requested, and then—FINALLY—the kids were placed where we wanted them and all has been grand ever since. Sort of.]

I know it’s a little difficult to tell from this diagram—and I assure you it’s one hundred times harder to decipher in real life—but basically, our county is broken up into zones. We’ll refer to them as A-E, as you can see, above. The red numbers represent schools. The gray lines represent zone lines that have shifted to include a school not necessarily right in the original zone that is now considered a “zone school” for that region.

For example, in our handy diagram, if you live in Zone C, you can choose either school 7 or 8. But if you live in Zone D, you can choose from schools 4, 5, 6, OR 11. And Zone E selects from 11, 12, or 6. Clear as mud, right? Right!

Well, things are getting a mite bit crowded here in my school district. So they decided to open up some new schools. Hooray!

Look! Four new schools! And the need for these weird little cross-over zones is eliminated, too. WHAT A GOOD IDEA! Nice job, school district!

Except that there’s still a big problem here, and it starts with $ and ends with $$$ and has to do with the fact that thanks to School Choice, we are now spending roughly the equivalent of the federal deficit*** each year on buses. In some cases, we have four different buses headed down the same street, headed to four different schools. That’s expensive.

And also sort of stupid.

Besides, wouldn’t it be great if we could get back to the days of yore, the wonder and magic of the concept of “neighborhood schools?” Of course it would! You bet your bippy! Let’s not discuss the fact that part of the reason School Choice happened in the first place was out of a desire to create some economic diversity within the schools, so that we didn’t have “neglected area” schools and “economically well-off” schools. Even though that was a REALLY GOOD ARGUMENT a few years ago, let’s all pretend we never heard of that before! Neighborhood schools, rah rah rah!

Now, you might think it would be a super-swell idea to revamp the attendance areas towards this new ideal in some sort of gradual plan with liberal grandfathering of current students, because heaven knows that many, many parents have worked their asses off for the school their kids attend and are feeling, oh, a little attached. But if you thought that, you are almost certainly not a member of my local School Board.

Because what my local School Board wants to do is revamp the attendance areas RIGHTHISVERYSECOND, so that everything can be in place for the start of the 2009 school year. And that’s a fabulous idea, except that:
1) One of the new schools needed to make this make sense won’t be opened until 2011;
2) The new plan assumes that nearly any amount of grandfathering will upset people around the cut-off, so instead BRILLIANTLY grandfathers only those kids headed into their last year of elementary school (and their siblings, but only for a year) and no one else;
3) No one seems to know what percentage of kids are currently enrolled at the “wrong” school for their neighborhood area, but an informal poll suggests a number somewhere around MOST OF THEM;
4) In order to prevent “economic clustering” this plan will not allow parents to leave their children in their original schools EVEN IF THEY PROVIDE TRANSPORTATION for them, even though the plan is supposedly about saving bus money, and also by the way, hello, neighborhood schools = economic clustering;
5) When a school is rated as failing to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (which most of our district’s schools are), the law states that students must be offered enrollment at an alternative—with transportation;
6) The new attendance map was drawn by drunken lemurs.

You think I’m kidding on the last one, but I assure you that the new map looks something like this:


The VERY BEST PART, of course, is that the School Board seems completely bewildered by the opposition this plan is receiving. I mean, why wouldn’t we all be in complete support of suddenly being forced to put our kids in different schools? SOUNDS FUN!

That’s always my favorite part, when parents being outraged is viewed as so CONFUSING. I mean, the district is all about parents getting involved, and then when we do they’re always ASTONISHED. (I think it’s possible that the district could use some therapy. Preferably of the electroshock variety.)

It’s going to be a really entertaining few months around here.

*These are not professional diagrams. They’re not particularly accurate, even. Use at your own risk.

**In theory. But not really. Seriously, look at them—are you going to trust those squiggles? I wouldn’t.

***Maybe not quite that much. But close.


  1. Chuck

    Um, ouch. My brain hurts after looking at your diagrams and reading this post. I think your school board is making me appreciate being single. Scary. (OK, I’m going out this weekend and socializing, I promise.)

  2. Leandra

    I need a drink after deciphering those maps and I don’t care if that does make y’all think I’m a heavy drinker. Trying to read those threw me into some kind of crazy time-warp back to 5th grade math and those ridiculous word problems we used to have to do: Jack is sitting next to Suzy but not next to Bob. Bob is sitting next to Jack. List the order that Bob, Suzy and Jack are sitting in. Ugh.

  3. Kathleen

    Personally, I would view those squiggles in the new version as highly suspicious. Kind of makes me wonder which school board members/friends of members live in certain loops and pointy bits.

  4. Megan

    I see… a hungry baby bird (with a very nice 8 for a sewonky eyeball), and a weird pointy nosed man with a hat and… ooh! Texas – that’s sort of Texas up there in the top left if you’re geographically challenged and also squinting. So perhaps your school people are trying a kind of jigsaw puzzle version of a Rorschach test?

    Also – schools are horrible. Is true. My Children are finally in one we all can bear and maybe even kind of sort of like and I don’t want to say that even out loud because obviously at once Doom Will Fall and we’ll either get shipped out of here somehow and for some reason or the school will suffer some horrendous fate like an unexpected avalanche or school board aneurysm or something.

  5. Lylah

    That last diagram looks like my town’s map of voting locations. I live down the street from a school/voting place, but my “district” has a strange little jog in it, much like the zone around school #14 up there, and so in order to vote I have to haul myself all the way across town. Because that makes much more sense.

    I think you deserve a drink. And some icecream.

  6. RuthWells

    Those drunken lemurs better be prepared to share their hooch, is all I’m saying.

  7. Ani

    We had school choice minus the transportation in our old school district. If you picked a different school than your assignment, you had to drive your child, provided they had enough space to accommodate, and it was reviewed every year. Fair enough.

    New district: School choice PLUS transportation, even from certain designated Before-School and After-school care providers. Which means, and I kid you not…kids get picked up by one bus, driven to the closest school/transfer point, TRANSFERRED to another bus and then driven to their school. Reverse it all for the afternoon. So…if you were to take a peek at the elementary school, where kids as young as 4 do Pre-K, you would see 10-12 buses in the lot, with kids being dropped off, and kids going inside, and kids getting back on other buses, and fairly organized chaos.

    Somehow they don’t misplace kids. But I shudder.

  8. Jenni

    We have neighborhood schools for elementary & jr high. But then in high school things get weird because different schools have different electives – one is supposedly the “arts” school and one is supposedly the “technology” school (or something like that, I still have 6 years before I really have to understand it (unless they go ahead and move 6th grade to jr high and 9th to high school then it’s only 5 yrs away)).

    Anyways, your school district is confusing. And they are going to annoy everyone.

  9. Niki

    We had a similar situation crop up when oldest dd was in elementary school. When she started, she could only go to school A, which had 1200 kids in a school built for 700, and where she was one of 2 non-minority children in her kindergarten class of 26. (and there were 8 kindergarten classes!) We live roughly 4 blocks from this school, across a tremendously busy street with no sidewalks, so we had to drive. The next year, we could choose school A or B, but we would have to get her to A to ride a bus to B. By year 3, we could choose from schools A, B, C, D, or E (each with a sparkly new “theme”), and she could now take a bus to any one of the 5 (since the lack of busing was pulling kids from A), and there were 5 elementary school buses going down my street every day, where once there had been none. It’s crazy, I tell you. Just one of the many reasons we finally went the private school route (though it means driving them).

    And Kathleen is totally right about those squiggles – somebody important lives within those boundaries!

  10. Dawn

    Your school board is nuts.

    That being said, ours is similar, on a smaller scale, and more confusing. And we don’t even have school choice.

    There are 4 elementary schools, but because most of the newcomers live out west of town, “coincidentally” right around the swanky new elementary school, our board decided to bus the some of the kids who literally live NEXT TO that new school over to other older schools across town. If I were to draw our map it would look like Swiss cheese – subdivisions were randomly selected to be bussed across town to a randomly assigned school. The school board can’t even diagram “who goes where” correctly. They must have gone to the same training as your drunken lemurs.

    PS My 7yo happens to be in the area that goes to the swanky new school – and it’s just as bad as the other three.

  11. Lauren

    Wow. The way it works here is that you have your choice of any of the city’s five schools, but priority is given by location. For more popular schools they actually get out mapquest and see that family A is 2.3 miles away and family B is 2.4 miles away, so A gets the spot.

    However, there are no school busses at all. It’s another way to go, indeed.

  12. Randi

    And here is where I make you jealous.

    My town? 150 post office boxes.

    My kids school? K-8th.

    The amount of kids in his second grade class? 7.

    The amount of second grades (and every other grade) 1.

    Amount of children in the ENTIRE SCHOOL: 98

    Ratio of kids to teachers in school: 5 to 1

    Amount we have to pay for school tax? Nada – the dump is on the town line (even though it’s really far out) and they pay for EVERYTHING.

    Not to ruin your day :)

  13. The Mom

    God bless the school board. Why do we have those anyway? They seem to always do a great job of mucking things up. Your maps make me think…..homeschool anyone? Normally I’d be concerned that the girls and I would never make it to the end of the day in one piece, but in diagram land of Mir’s school district…it might be a saner choice.

  14. mamalang

    We have school choice, but transportation isn’t provided if you choice into another school. You want your kids to go somewhere else, you drive them there. And our school district is mostly closed to choice, unless you live in the district AND already have a sibling in the school or want to go the base school, or if you have the privelege of working at a school in the district. Since I school choice my kids to the base, I really can’t throw stones, but it was a bit confusing to me at first.

    But here’s the funny thing about this. Our school district is one of the poorest in the entire state (and we have ghettos up in Wilmington, so that’s saying something) but we have among the highest scores on state-wide testing, and some of the best statistics of children graduating, going to college. So it can work, but you have to have some really smart people running things.

    Good Luck. I truly understand how much stress choosing a school can cause.

  15. Emily

    lol. We have ‘neighborhood schools’ except that your ‘neighborhood school’ has very little to do with proximity. IE you could live on the Northeast side of town and your kid could go to school on the Southwest side of town. This was also done in the spirit of ‘economic diversity’. Guess what? It really hasn’t worked. LOL!

    If I didn’t think I know better – I’d swear you lived in northern IL instead of Georgia!

  16. Damsel

    No, no, no, Leandra…. THIS is the math problem: Jack is sitting next to Suzy but not next to Bob. Bob is sitting next to Jack. How tall is Jim?

  17. Sheila

    Watch out, School Board! Here comes Mir!

    Give ’em hell.

  18. Headless Mom

    School district school line drawers make the drinking all the more necessary.

  19. Jennifer Suarez

    After diagram #2 my intrest slowly wanned. I don’t have the attention span to be able to keep up with all of that.

    Thank goodness I’m from a small town with little choice of schools. My diagram would be.

    Our house address —> Our School

    Ahhhh… so much easier!

  20. ImpostorMom

    We were just talking about this at work yesterday. Because mine is still a ways out from school I knew nothing of the plans other than it was supposed to be a big deal. Maybe we’ll homeschool our boy, oh wait that means one of us has to stay home. Hmmmm.

  21. StephLove

    My son’s in a magnet Spanish immersion program at our local elementary school. The other nearby elementary school has a magnet gifted program. A lot of kids cross town to attend our school and a lot of kids cross the other way to attend the other one. In fact, last year we used to cross the street to stand at my son’s bus stop while the kids on the other side of the street crossed to our side to stand at theirs. Still, it doesn’t seem as complicated as your system. Maybe it’s just because I’m not considering our whole (huge) county, just our little corner of it.

  22. natalie

    i’m all for neighborhood schools! yea! and drunken lemurs. those are nice too. just be careful…they bite!

  23. Jamie AZ

    Yikes – headache! Booze not optional anymore!!

  24. Em

    My head exploded. Any private schools worth looking into, if only to avoid the chaos?

  25. Mama Bear

    School choice, no transportation provided, problems solved. Right? Where I live, there is no transportation provided except for special needs children and those who live (way) out of town. Simple, easy, done. Plus, the district saves money to haul the all important athletes to their sporting events over 6 hours away. Ahem…

  26. Jan

    Methinks “economic diversity” is the new-fangled, PC way of saying “desegregation”. Which is what we were engaged in when I was in school. And I don’t believe there were any bloody choices.

    These kinds of things are what make me long to be my very own (benevolent, of course) dictatorial power. IOW, why do they not just put me in charge of everything and not be allowed to question my decisions.

  27. Lori

    Brain hurts. Perhaps time for another night of Mojito Scrabble? (Sorry – just caught up on a bunch of your previous posts.) I’d play along, but Scrabble makes my brain hurt too.

    Good luck Mir!

  28. Melissa

    Is being a member of a school board an actual full time paid position, or is it something extra that people do? Because I could totally see the people I work with getting out their frustrations by serving on a school board and coming up with ideas like that…

  29. Half Assed Kitchen

    Wow, that makes Seattle schools look fairly sensible.

  30. The Other Leanne


  31. amybee

    Are you sure you don’t live in Charlotte? That looks like our drunken lemur map that is currently under revision.

  32. Andrea

    We have school choice here. It was a whole new world to me. When we bought our house, our son was to go to the school we liked. Then they changed the boundaries, and the school he SHOULD attend is at 102% of program capacity. Now we must choice him there every year. While I am grateful for choice, it also makes me insane. Here we are in October, and soon we will be filling out single-page applications to get our son into the school he’s already been choiced to for the past 3 years. We will wait until March/April at the mercy of the school district to see if he was “accepted.” We provide transportation, and even though we carpool with 2 other families, there is still a caravan of cars, SUVs and minivans back and forth to/from our neighborhood the 3 miles to our choice school. (YOU ARE WELCOME, MOTHER EARTH.) Meanwhile, they will bus other kids 10 miles one-way to my son’s school. Hmm. And they have limited choice due to space reasons with really no grandfathering considered (makes me more insane). I know kids are resilient, but why must an incoming fifth grader change schools for a year, only to have to change to middle school the next? How ’bout some continuity?
    The whole thing makes my blood boil yet I want what I consider is best for my son.

  33. Katie in MA

    Okay, my brains may have been scrambled by the squiggles and the asterisks and the open bar the lemurs were nice enough to host…but what does this mean for Chickie and Monkey? It SOUNDED at one point like they had to switch even though you were going to carry them to school, piggyback – and if so, how are they dealing?

  34. Jenny

    No Drunken Lemur Left Behind!

  35. Deb

    Wow…they are going to have some pretty angry parents at the next meeting. Good luck with that!!

  36. Barbara

    So tell us more about how you are “working through the proper channels”. I’m imagining Harper Valley PTA (apologies if someone has already mentioned this, I don’t have time to read all comments just now.)

    Too much control in all the wrong places for too long.

    Imagine there’s no school buses. It isn’t hard to do. No money misdirected. No legal hassles, too. Imagine all the people, caring for today! Woo-ooo-ooo!

  37. Lori

    Can we talk shower curtains? Or bean crack? Honestly, anything to distract from those diagrams. I need to lie down.

  38. Amy-Go

    Invite friends over before next school board meeting. Binge drink. Attend meeting as angry mob. Might work, might not. But you’ll feel better.

  39. dcfullest

    When are you running for school board? They need you.

  40. Heidi

    I know you don’t like cats, but believe me, life with cats is so much less complicated than it is with children.

  41. Amy

    Perhaps you should consider giving up the B&J’s and heading straight for the Vodka.

    It might make those diagrams easier to understand.

  42. Traci in GA

    “No Drunken Lemur Left Behind”
    HAH!!! Jenny is FUNNY!

  43. tj

    Vodka’tini – thank you.
    Good luck hun!

  44. Lisa- Domestic Accident

    You lost me at the 2nd map.

    Here in Maine, they are consolidating school districts to save money with administration costs and people are ticked. Who knew there were so many politically correct ways to say we don’t want to consolidate with you because our community is more affluent than yours.

  45. Summer

    My head just exploded, Mir. And I’d only just put it back together after watching John McCain smirking about the DC public school system I so recently escaped.

  46. tori

    I am so sorry you are dealing with this. But your drunken lemurs thought actually made me laugh out loud and I have a feeling it will now become something I regularly say. Everyone is going to think I have some sort of animal thing since I already regularly say “running around like monkeys in a banana factory” instead of chickens with their heads cut off…because the monkey thing seems much less violent while still conveying the same thought.

    I’m sorry for being so rambly/off topic today!

  47. Astrogirl

    I’m thinking the solution might be to find a parent of one of the kids in your kids’ school who’s ticked off, and who is also a lawyer. Then start talking to said lawyer, reinforcing the idea that “we shouldn’t have to take this! We need to make them listen!” Then sit back and watch the ensuing lawsuit work its magic. Nothing like a pissed-off parent who’s also a lawyer to make a lazy School Board sit up and listen.

    Yes, I am in league with the devil. Your point…?

  48. premenopaws

    Drunken lemurs indeed. Around here (Minnesota) we have school choice with two simple rules. The school you want your kids to go to must have space, and you must be willing to get them there. (In the better districts, the space issue often results in a lottery for the few open slots.)

  49. Rori Raye

    Oh my, the memories. You just never know what’s going to happen next. We were at the top-rated elementary school in not only the district, but perhaps the city – totally lucked out – but then discovered the school means zip. It’s the TEACHER that counts. The one person your child is stuck with from early morning to late afternoon. And it seems, the more prestigious the school, the more entrenched are the methods. They ran a visionary new principal out of town and banished her back to the district office, and left the children trapped with burned-out, authoritarian, by-the-book, egocentric teachers that left my mouth hanging open, and kept me sitting in those rooms most days just to protect my daughter from the pent-up anger flying around.

    Everything changing so fast, not knowing where you’re going or what you’re doing. So sorry you have to go through this.

    We started homeschooling in 9th grade, and the peace of it was so profound…Thanks for venting, I hope you end up in a school you’re happy with, and teachers you like…Sincerely, Rori

  50. Katy

    Our school district moved from choice to neighborhood schools about 3 years ago, and the busing issue ($$$) was a huge impetus. I am in a large city with 30+ elem. schools and kids were getting bussed all over…sibs in all different schoosl…no parent involvement due to 70% poverty rate here & lack of public transportation. SO–goodbye to economic diversity. Sort of; our neighborhood school isn’t full so about 50% of the kids are bussed in from the more urban areas. It has worked for us, BUT due to luck more than anything; thankfully we bought a house in the “right” neighborhood 10 yrs ago before anyone KNEW that was the right neighborhood. Sigh. It’s all crazy.

  51. Mom on the Run

    Well, at least your kids are in GT classes. I have one child in all GT classes in middle school and one child who has never had GT instruction. No prizes for guessing which child is getting the better education.

  52. Janet

    As someone in the same district, who has discussed this issue at length w/ the awesome Mir, I can confirm that the map does look like that. However, part of the reason for this is that, for the most part, the new map does keep neighborhoods together. i.e., kids in the same subdivision will all attend the same school. For the most part I don’t think the squiggles are for reasons other than keeping neighborhoods together / keeping population areas for schools balanced to accommodate what the schools can hold. The maps have also been drawn in such a way that, because of the city we live in, every school will draw in some areas of economic disadvantage (yes, I’m being PC for saying that every school will draw from low-income housing areas; some more than others; the school board claims that schools will be more balanced under this map than before). This plan seems crazy, but the current situation isn’t great either… right now people who move to the district are very unhappy with the uncertainty over where their child will go to school, b/c there’s no way to know where your child will attend until you get the magical letter in MAY announcing their “draw.” The new system will allow certainty. However, Mir is absolutely right that this is being instituted CRAZY fast — it was first announced in September and there are 6 hastily announced “forums” and then the school board will vote in early November, to start this NEXT YEAR! On the flip side, if they allow kids to stay grandfathered into their current school and allow siblings to stay together, it might be 10 years before all kids are attending their neighborhood schools (if you have a kid starting K this year who has 1 or 2 younger siblings down the road).

    Reading all these posts makes it clear that these issues are complicated in lots of districts and there are lots of imperfect solutions out there. And the private schools around here aren’t perfect either — havens for “white flight” and lack of economic and political diversity. I’ll leave it at that. ;)

  53. A Mama's Rant

    Well, it could be worse. At least you have transportation to your “School of Choice.” Here in Colorado, we do have school choice, but you gotta get the kids to school on your own. Then there’s the whole matter of charter schools, of which I’m a founder of one nearby. Then you get NO BUS unless the parents want to pay for that (THEY DON’T) so instead you join a myriad of carpools, which change from day to day depending on “in service days,” mom’s work schedule, mom’s travel schedule, mom’s school schedule, and the after school care lady’s schedule. And don’t even let me go into charter school boards, the last refuge of the truely insane. Just wait until middle school. UGH!

  54. K

    Good luck with all of that.

    I do feel a need to pipe up for the average school board member. I can’t think of a more under-appreciated job. In my experience, the school board members are, for the most part, people who care deeply about education and want to make it better for all kids. To do this, they attend an obscene amount of meetings and 99.9% of the feedback they get is negative. Parents write/call to complain. Never really to say, “hey, I liked that policy you just wrote.”

    I think that we, as parents, see one slice of the situation. (typically the slice that affects our own kid) but the school board members are looking at the entire situation and trying to pick the solution that benefits the most kids.

    In most states, they are working with less and less money. There are no good options – they are just looking at a slew of bad options and trying to pick the least bad.

    My neighbor was on the school board, and some of the phone calls/letters she got were horrid. scary horrid. personal attack horrid.

    Of course, your school board could very well just be a group of crazy people – I don’t know! : )

  55. LiteralDan

    Something’s gotta keep the bureaucrats of the world occupied, right? I think those horrific diagrams of yours are as close as anyone could get to demonstrating the madness.

    Still, they hurt my brain.

  56. Catherine

    We have choice schools here too, so your map made perfect sense. However, if you opt out of your neighborhood school transportation is your responsibility. The district provides busing to one and only one school. Period. While that would mean major suckage for a lot of people. It would also force people to consider their neighborhood school, or the one on the way to work before the one across town in the opposite direction.

  57. Heather.PNR

    Oh, ugh. This is why I’m dreading jumping into the whole school thing a few years from now.

  58. The FringeGirl

    I’ve just discovered Ben & Jerry’s Cheesecake & brownie ice-cream. Ohhhh, my hips will live to regret such a find.

  59. Beth

    Wow. Just, wow. Apparently in my city you need to 10-15 school tours to get 7 choices (but they better not be all top schools) and you may lose out anyway, so people apply concurrently to private and charter schools, and the city is GRIDLOCKED from 3-4:30 while everyone drives to god knows where to pick up their kids.

    Education should be federally funded; equal $$ to every school, untangling the whole thing from real estate, just like they do in civilized countries.

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