Having his children live within walking distance of Walker Butte K-8 School was a selling point when Andrew Carney moved his family to the south East Valley’s Johnson Ranch a year ago.
So he was surprised to learn in January that a proposed boundary change would move his children — and others living east of Johnson Ranch Boulevard — to Anthem K-8 School, six miles away.
The Florence school board hasn’t yet voted on the boundary change, but Carney wishes someone would have told him it was a possibility.
“It seems like a trick,” he said.
Carney is learning a lesson many families in high growth areas have learned the hard way: School boards are not bound by developers’ promises.
Chris Thomas, director of legal services for the Arizona School Boards Association, recommends that parents research a school district’s plans before buying a home.
“I would respect what the developer is telling me,” he said. “I would also talk to the school district independently.
“Growth is going to dictate how things get moved. I felt very strongly about one of the schools in my neighborhood so I wanted to be in that area — but there’s no guarantee it’ll stay that way.”
Janiece Fowler, a Johnson Ranch resident, also purchased her home because her sons would be able to walk or ride their bikes to school just a few blocks away.
When she saw the proposed boundaries, she collected 100 parent signatures asking to stay at Walker Butte.
Fowler said now she won’t be surprised if her sons end up at Anthem K-8, but she fears the six-mile bus ride down Hunt Highway, a two-lane road with a dirt shoulder.
School boundaries are always subject to change, and the likelihood is increased in the rapidly growing areas of the south East Valley where most districts are opening new schools on an annual basis.
In the Chandler Unified School District, some residents of the Seville master-planned community are upset the boundary for Riggs Elementary School, opening in the fall, does not include the entire development. The land for the school was donated by Shea Homes.
District spokesman Terry Locke has said the boundary decision was based on what was best for all students in the district and to provide longterm stability for the school.
Several state lawmakers have sent letters to district officials urging them to consider redrawing the boundaries.
“We fail to understand why (the Chandler district) chose to split this cohesive community of interest, especially when Shea Homes donated a school site large enough to accommodate the entire Seville development,” said a letter signed by Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, Rep. John McComish, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, and Sen. John Huppenthal, R-Chandler.
A similar letter was sent last month by Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Gilbert, and Rep. Steven Yarbrough, R-Chandler.
Clint Bolick, an attorney for Shea Homes, also sent a letter last month that said Shea Homes had a “reasonable expectation” that Riggs would serve all Seville residents and suggests he may pursue legal action.
Thomas said he isn’t aware of any cases in Arizona in which a developer forced a school board to change boundaries.
“It’s intended to be a cooperative arrangement ... but really, the school district is a separate legal entity charged with educating kids within the boundaries of the school district,” he said.
Thomas said a developer doesn’t have a say in setting a permanent boundary, because you can’t predict how student enrollment will shift over time.
Even a school board can’t set a permanent boundary, because legally, one elected board can’t make decisions that will bind a future board.
The situations in Chandler and Florence are not unique.
Longtime Gilbert Unified School District governing board member Elaine Morrison recalled that in the early 1980s, residents in the Islands development were told by their developer that Islands Elementary School would be their neighborhood school.
The problem was that the portion of the development south of Warner Road was in the Chandler district, not Gilbert.
Morrison said home buyers should be wary of information not provided by the school district.
“The point of view of the school district was, is and always has been: You are moving into a high growth area,” Morrison said. “Misrepresentation by others is nothing new. The school district makes every effort in high growth areas (to let people know) things are subject to change. And boundaries are changing and changing.”
“It’s wonderful that people love their schools — that kind of loyalty is a very precious commodity,” she said. But “everybody needs to be aware that families continue to live in Gilbert and (that causes need) for reassessment.”