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STUTTGART, Germany — School district officials are considering a variety of options to contend with a potential spike in enrollment next school year at Patch High School.

While redistricting is something that’s being looked at, it will be a last and unlikely option, according to Frank Roehl, superintendent for the Heidelberg School District.

A more likely scenario involves shifting some students from Patch Elementary to Robinson Elementary, Roehl said, and using the freed-up space for the nearby high school.

Everything hinges on what the enrollment numbers are for next year, and that won’t be known until preregistration in April, Roehl said.

“What we’re trying to do is have a decision ready on the shelf,” said Roehl, adding that it is possible no change will be required.

School and military leaders have been meeting to get a handle on the issues and examine the range of options, Roehl said. Currently, shifting fifth-graders to Robinson would affect about 120 students.

The discussions are in response to an influx of personnel that resulted from the establishment of U.S. Africa Command. When it is fully staffed, AFRICOM will have about 1,300 military and civilian workers. Most of the military side is already in place, according to AFRICOM. About 300 mostly civilian jobs will be filled during 2009.

Roehl said the consequent increase in school enrollment is likely to take place at the high-school level since contractors tend to be older and are less likely to have children in elementary school. And since there’s only one high school in Stuttgart, making room at the elementary school next door would likely be the simplest option to implement.

Adapting to changing demographics is nothing new to the Stuttgart community. Last year, a school rezoning plan that would have required dozens of the district’s youngest children to experience hourlong bus rides to and from school each day caused much consternation. School and garrison officials quickly changed course and implemented a less drastic plan.

Redistricting is something Roehl said he’s looking to avoid. It can be an effective way to spread around enrollment in the beginning, but with community members constantly rotating in and out of town every couple of years, the balance at the schools is always shifting.

“You draw the line and, sure, the current people go to the appropriate school, but then two years later, new people come in and they want to go to a certain school. And then you’re looking at doing redistricting again,” he said.

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John covers U.S. military activities across Europe and Africa. Based in Stuttgart, Germany, he previously worked for newspapers in New Jersey, North Carolina and Maryland. He is a graduate of the University of Delaware.
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