BELTON — Participants at the Belton Independent School District’s second attendance boundaries meeting would like to find a way to avoid separating elementary kids from their friends when they go to middle school.

The Monday meeting discussed road improvements and socioeconomic diversity, as well as the difficulty of keeping elementary communities together in middle school.

Belton Independent School District is conducting a series of five community meetings to come up with a plan to re-draw attendance zone boundaries as the district grows and changes. The third meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Harris Community Center, 401 N. Alexander St.

Templeton Demographics prepared some suggested new attendance boundaries based on the number of families with children in each Belton ISD neighborhood, and demographic consultant Bob Templeton gave a presentation explaining the prototype new boundaries.

“This is a starter plan. It’s not meant to be a final plan,” Templeton said.

When construction is complete, the district will have 10 elementary campuses, four middle schools and two comprehensive high schools, plus the more specialized campus at Belton New Tech High School @ Waskow.

Although the district is not currently building a middle school, there is an old middle school next to Belton High School that is currently used as a ninth grade center for high school students. Once the high school is less crowded, that building will go back to being a middle school.

Templeton explained how his staff had moved some of the lines for elementary attendance zones to create the starter plan.

“Some of the key points from the elementary (plan) is that we’re moving kids out of Tarver (zone) into Pirtle; we’re moving a lot of kids out of Pirtle into Charter Oak; we’re moving that far northwest quadrant out of Chisholm into Sparta,” he said.

Starter plan

The proposed starter plan puts the new Charter Oak Elementary attendance zone straddling Interstate 35.

After circulating among the discussion tables, Templeton noted that several people were concerned about the distribution of economically disadvantaged students in each attendance zone.

Currently, he said, Miller Heights has the most economically disadvantaged students at the elementary level at 69 percent, while Lakewood Elementary has only 28 percent economically disadvantaged students.

“With the starter plan, (there’s) not a lot of change there,” Templeton said.

Another discussion concern was that the plan calls for splitting the population of Pirtle and Lakewood elementaries once those students reach middle-school age. Templeton said that that was a concern for those drawing up the plan as well.

“We really did try several options to not do the splits at the elementary,” he said. “Two of the elementaries are a lot smaller — if we had equal pieces it would be easier, but the fact that you have such odd sized pieces, that’s what led us to problems.”

However, Templeton said his staff can develop alternate plans that show what the middle school populations would look like without dividing the elementaries.

New campuses

Belton ISD includes students from Belton, Temple and Morgan’s Point. Two new schools are under construction within Temple city limits, leading to concerns about the traffic capacity of the adjoining roads.

Temple’s Director of Planning Brian Chandler attended Monday’s meeting to discuss the city’s plans for road improvements around Belton ISD schools.

Charter Oak Elementary School is being built on Poison Oak Road in Temple. At the previous meeting, a resident of that neighborhood described the road as being about one and a half lanes wide. The pavement is also considerably worn.

Temple has plans to widen and improve Poison Oak Road. Currently, the city is working on acquiring the right-of-way needed to add to the road. Chandler said construction on the road should begin in the spring of 2020 and finish in the summer of 2021. The city also plans to add a stoplight in front of Charter Oak Elementary.

“The good news is the project is under way,” Chandler said. “The bad news is it takes a lot of time.”

Charter Oak Elementary will open in the fall of 2019, before the road construction begins. Chandler’s presentation showed all of the city’s upcoming road projects, showing participants where the school-related projects stand in relation to other road improvements.

“We just began the right-of-way acquisition, and so that widening is certainly going to require acquisition of property on the south side of the street,” Chandler said. “(There’s a) re-alignment, taking out that nasty dog leg you have in there.”

When it is completed, Chandler noted, the wider Poison Oak Road will have a sidewalk for hike and bike access.