Boundaries to stay as is in Richland School District

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldApril 23, 2013 

No Richland middle school students will be forced to change schools next year because of overcrowding.

The Richland School Board agreed Tuesday night during a packed meeting to keep all attendance boundaries as they are.

The district will hire two mobile teachers to address the needs at Enterprise Middle School in West Richland. The board also will look at moving up construction of a new middle school to permanently resolve the problem.

A few parents said they were glad there would be no change so neighborhoods could be kept together and students wouldn't be disrupted. But others said they hope the district will develop a consistent approach to determining attendance areas in the future.

"I ask that when you rezone, you look at overall student populations and make those schools as equal as possible," parent Becky Rausch told the board.

Enterprise is projected to have more than 1,000 students next school year and Carmichael Middle School enrolls more than 900. Chief Joseph Middle School has about 680.

Board members were considering, among other options, moving some of Enterprise's students to Chief Jo to alleviate crowding. That led to strong opposition from some parents and students who said they did not want to leave their friends and teachers, but also some claims that Chief Jo was not offering the same programs as Enterprise or providing a quality education.

The board did consider a proposal from board member Phyllis Strickler on Tuesday where students in the Horn Rapids community would transition to Chief Jo during the next few years. She said the community's location in the far north meant it would be unlikely students there would move to a future middle school to be built as part of a $98 million bond. Such a strategy would ensure they wouldn't have to be moved twice, she said.

"It makes more sense for them to be at Chief Jo," she said.

However, that proposal only would have shifted 11 students to Chief Jo next year. Even with a decision to assign all future middle school students for homes and apartments currently under construction to Chief Jo, board members said it wasn't enough to justify moving students.

The board also does not yet have property for the new middle school, which would influence future boundaries. Board Chairman Rick Jansons and others said it would be better to move that project up and overhaul boundaries then so it only has to be done once.

"I think our preference all along has been to not move children twice," said Vice Chairwoman Heather Cleary.

Matt Landon, a Horn Rapids resident who has two children at Sacajawea Elementary School, said the board needed only a temporary solution to the problems of overcrowding, and boundary realignment would be more permanent. He said he hoped his children could attend the same school as the other children they play with to promote community.

Amy Bloom said she would be happy sending her children to either Enterprise or Chief Jo but only wanted to make sure none of them had to shift while already attending one.

Others called for a policy on addressing boundaries in the future and also addressed perceptions that have been brought up about Chief Jo. The school's PTA co-president Bas Strmec said all the district's schools are good and any sense of elitism should be avoided.

Parent Miriam Gormley said she sympathized with those families who faced the possibility of changing schools.

However, that shouldn't turn into a battle to avoid specific ones and asked the board to outline what factors it considers when reviewing boundaries.

"None of our children have a right to go to a better school, but we have to fight for better schools for everyone," she said.

Also Tuesday:

w Jansons, Cleary and board member Rick Donahoe, along with other district staff and administrators, will leave Wednesday to tour the districts of the three superintendent finalists.

The tours will go through Friday and board members will review comments provided by the public after each finalist's public visit last week.

The board is scheduled to meet in a closed-door session at 10 a.m. Monday to discuss a possible hire, with a possible decision made in a public meeting later that day.

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