Board votes to move portable to White Bluffs elementary

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 13, 2013 

The Richland School District will move a portable big enough for two classrooms to White Bluffs Elementary School to help ease overcrowding for the next two school years.

The decision came after a rare split vote from the Richland School Board in a special board meeting Thursday. Members Rick Jansons, Rick Donahoe and Mary Guay approved adding the portable at a cost of about $101,000.

Heather Cleary and Phyllis Strickler opposed the decision, saying there are other options, such as converting other rooms at the school into classrooms and capping how many students can enroll.

"Even if everything were to stay the same, there's still too many kids (at the school)," Strickler said.

Located in the fast-growing suburbs of south Richland, the school is the largest elementary school in the district.

White Bluffs had 813 students at the end of the 2012-13 school year and is projected to have 826 this fall. The first- and fifth-grade classes are expected to be the most crowded.

About a dozen White Bluffs parents attended the meeting and applauded the board's decision. Many spoke at the meeting about needing the portable in order to preserve art and library programs, which could be affected by room conversions.

"Yeah, (portables) are not beautiful but they're not ugly and they provide an environment for children to learn in," parent Jill Oldson told the board.

Board members began looking at the overcrowding at White Bluffs at Tuesday's meeting and continued the discussion Thursday.

The portable, which is a double-wide with two classrooms, would be moved from Richland High School, where it is being used for in-school suspension students and other programs. District officials said those functions could be housed elsewhere at the high school.

District Assistant Superintendent Mike Hansen said the portable likely will address White Bluffs overcrowding for at least two years until a new elementary school at Brantingham and Keene roads opens for the 2015-16 school year.

Strickler and Cleary advocated capping enrollment at White Bluffs and putting the extra students at another school.

How the cap would work would have to be determined but it potentially would prevent new children from going to White Bluffs even if they lived moved in across the street.

"We have to head this off because it's only going to get worse," Cleary said. "In my opinion we should have done this sooner than now."

The board also considered converting the art room into a classroom or a small library space on the school's second floor into a classroom. The art teacher then would teach from a cart that she would use to visit individual classrooms.

Cleary and Strickler supported those changes, Donahoe said he was opposed.

He said that teachers can adapt to less-than-ideal teaching conditions such as having to use a cart, but that decision also affects children.

"Is it going to cost money (to install a portable)? Yes. For me, it's a thing for the kids," he said.

Parents only spoke in support of putting in a portable, some requesting it remain permanently. They said the overcrowding needs to be addressed because it affects the quality of instruction, but they also don't want to lose what they called excellent art and library programs.

"I've seen too many times when there's a money issue, the students lose," said parent Belinda Stairs.

Board members said they will continue to monitor the enrollment. Donahoe said it also may be time to revisit school boundaries, despite a board discussion weeks ago that indicated that would be put off until the district builds a new elementary and middle school already approved by voters.

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