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Building boom in northwest Bakersfield forces controversial school boundary changes

A map shows Kern High School District school boundaries in northwest Bakersfield, Calif., July 13, 2017. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

Squeezed by higher-than-expected student populations in northwest Bakersfield, Kern High School District officials are confronted with the need to make changes to existing school-attendance boundaries that are bound to be unpopular.

"I don't know if the builders are saying, 'We'll build it, and they'll come,' or if the people are saying, 'We want homes there,' but the bottom line is that when they build them, they seem to be selling, and they're filling in," said Roger Sanchez, who handles research and planning for the school district.

Some aspects of the planning are straightforward.

"We know how many kids are in the pipeline already," he said. "We know how many third-graders there are, we know how many fourth-graders there are."

But housing development -- tied to ever-changing economic conditions -- is a bit tougher to predict.

"The number of building (projects) that's been going on has outpaced even our own projections from six years ago," Sanchez said.

And for now, building permits and site plans seem to indicate the construction isn't slowing down.

Sanchez spread a map out on his desk that showed more than 10,000 new homes in various stages of planning and development in the northwest, noting that the district should act now to avoid a serious overcrowding problem.

"We have to plan it in a conservative fashion, but yet aggressive enough to get ahead of the curve so that we're not looking at 2,700 kids at a school and going, 'Now what do we do?'" he said.

The district has three different plans, each with small differences, but all with a similar wave of movement that takes homes out of the Frontier district and into Centennial or Liberty high schools.

But the influx at Centennial would require some homes in the eastern portions of that district to slide into North High School, where lower test scores may discourage parents who purchased homes in northwest Bakersfield with Frontier of Centennial in mind.

Still up in the air for the moment is the future of homes in Gossamer Grove, Lennar's large, master plan community under construction just north of Seventh Standard Road along the Bakersfield-Shafter border. Homes there could potentially feed into North, Centennial or Frontier, depending on the plan that is chosen.

Four public meetings were held throughout the last several weeks for officials to gather feedback. If you missed the meetings, you can send your comments to the district by email, boundaryquestions@kernhigh.org. July 31 is the deadline to submit ideas.

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