When the Santa Fe Public Schools Board of Education voted Jan. 9 to cap enrollment at Amy Biehl Community School in Rancho Viejo, board Vice President Maureen Cashmon was the lone dissenter.
For her, the decision to send new enrollees to Piñon Elementary was a short-term solution to a long-term problem: How to more fairly divide students among Santa Fe's schools as neighborhoods on the Southside continue to outgrow the schools for which their children are zoned to attend.
Instead of capping enrollment at Amy Biehl, which may affect some lower-income families, Cashmon thought the district should have instead redesigned the school's boundaries so that three contiguous neighborhoods within the Amy Biehl zone would have been rezoned to Piñon.
"Even though we were looking at that as maybe a temporary solution, in my mind and heart I knew that'd become permanent solution" because of demographic trends, says Cashmon, whose board district encompasses homes in the Amy Biehl zone.
Santa Fe Public Schools marginally changed boundaries last year to even out enrollment at Santa Fe High and Capital High schools, and in 2014 it modified boundaries for some elementary schools, but it has been years since it considered a district-wide rezoning for most or all schools.
Superintendent Veronica Garcia tells SFR she expects to show the board a detailed study of the district's population growth, boundaries and facility capacities in April or May, and that "it's possible" the plan will include rezoning suggestions. SFPS board Secretary Kate Noble, who is also running for mayor, tells SFR that a redrawing of the district's boundaries should also consider other factors, such as where parents work.
"Many parents I've talked to would love their students to be in a school that is near to where they work," says Noble, who supported the enrollment cap at Amy Biehl. "We need to also understand patterns of turnover in land use, [and have] some analysis of the ages of people living in those areas."
Enrollment for Southside schools like Amy Biehl, Piñon, and Nina Otero stands at just a little over 4,000, and will approach 5,000 by the 2026-2027 school year, according to the district. Enrollment numbers are forecast to stay steady or decline everywhere else.
Three elementary schools in the center of town, including Chaparral, Nava and EJ Martinez, all saw their enrollment decline over the last three school years, resulting in 491 current vacancies. The district targeted Nava and EJ Martinez for closure last year, but backlash from parents made the move politically untenable and the board shot down the plan.
Cashmon anticipates a similar outrage from parents if the board pursues any sort of district-wide rezoning. She was the only board member who advocated closing EJ Martinez and Nava last year, a move she saw as part of a broad solution to fix the district's lopsided enrollment.
"[It] might mean you need to make the [zoning] circles bigger. … Short-term, that's probably not a good thing for any board member to say; politically, it's not a good thing to say," she tells SFR.
If growth trends in surrounding neighborhoods continue, Amy Biehl may come to serve the Rancho Viejo subdivision almost exclusively, Cashmon claims. That subdivision's project manager, Cass Thompson, says it has added 30 to 50 new homes a year since 2012, and hopes to add 100 this year.
Meanwhile, says Superintendent Garcia, the district has asked parents with students at Amy Biehl to submit two proofs of address by Friday Feb. 16 as part of its "aggressive" campaign to identify students attending schools for which they are not zoned.
Separately, parents who wish to enter their students into the lottery for an interzone transfer to another school for the 2018-2019 school year should submit their application by Thursday Feb. 15. Due to overcrowding, no transfers will be allowed to Amy Biehl or Milagro Middle School.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story said that all parents with students in SFPS needed to submit two proofs of address by Feb. 16. In fact, only parents with students at Amy Biehl need to submit such documentation. We regret the error.