BURLINGTON, Ky. -- It seems like just about everybody is headed to Boone County.
Boone County, which is usually listed as one of the fastest growing counties in Kentucky, grows by about 1,500 people per year.
According to Bob Jonas, a long-range planner for Boone County, there were 118,811 residents in 2010. Five years later, that count climbed to 127,712. The areas with the most expansion right now are on the north side of Hebron and in Union in the Triple Crown subdivision.
Many entities need to be alerted as the growth takes place, but one of the most important is the Boone County School District, to allow district officials to keep up with the supply and demand.
The administrators at the county are very proactive about letting the school district know what is happening as farm land is diminishing, Jonas said.
“We look at permits for new home construction as well as the amount of building lots still available,” said Jonas. “That way they know what is coming and it gives them a grasp of the situation.”
This information is relayed by Mike Ford, who has the dual role of director of pupil personal for the school district as well as a member of the Boone County Planning Commission.
“This relationship enables us to have firsthand information,” said Ford. “We know upfront the size of new developments and how it will impact our schools.”
This working arrangement has allowed the district to create a comprehensive plan through 2020.
“We have created a formula to help us identify where our future students will be and where we will need new schools,” he said. “It is a model that we have shared with educators in other growing school districts.”
Currently, Boon County Schools is made up of 14 elementary, five middle, four high and two alternative schools, with plans underway for two or three more schools in the next five years. Land is already being cleared for a new middle school in the Ballyshannon neighborhood off Long Branch Road in Union. It is projected to open in 2018.
Jonas said the planning commission also helps with redistricting when there is a new school. The county’s mapping system, known as a geographic information system (GIS), helps school district officials look at boundaries and determine which students in each neighborhood attend which schools.
Boone County Schools, which currently has an enrollment of about 21,000, has had steady growth of about 300 to 400 new students per year.
“Sure, part of it is the economy,” said Bob Barrix, director of transportation for Boone County Schools. “But part of it is also our excellent schools.”
He said getting all those students where they need to be can be a daunting task. Barrix manages the fleet of 253 buses, the second largest in the state, that traveled 2.7 million miles last year.
“That’s like driving to the moon and back 11 times,” he said.
Analyzing the routes and the number of buses needed is addressed throughout each school year.
“This is a never-ending challenge for us,” said Barrix. “We are constantly updating routes and taking steps to prevent overcrowding.”
Barrix explained that there are 55 positions per bus and most buses are full, but not over-crowded. If any student has to stand, then that bus is too crowded.
“Kentucky law actually allows for students to stand in the aisle if necessary, but that is not best practice for Boone County Schools,” he said. “We don’t want any of our students to stand on a bus.”
Ford said the situation in Boone County is unique because most school districts stay about the same from year to year.
“But we grow annually,” he said. “We are forced to look at every division from class size, transportation, food service, nurses, teachers, administrators and buildings, every year. We do what it takes to meet the needs of our children every year.”