Richland School District taking a 'very preliminary' look at boundary changes

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldOctober 8, 2013 

The Richland School District may not have new schools opening until the fall of 2015, but it already is taking a look at how that may change attendance boundaries.

District administrators provided a preview Tuesday of how student populations could be distributed in central Richland or the suburbs on the district's edges when the new schools open. No boundary proposals were presented.

"It's all very preliminary," said Assistant Superintendent Mike Hansen.

District officials and board members acknowledged there are months of study and public meetings ahead before any decision on school boundaries is made.

But the early review shows where there's room to work and will give the board plenty of time to make a decision.

"It shows we have options," acting board President Heather Cleary told the Herald after the meeting.

The district will build a new elementary school in south Richland and replace three central Richland elementary schools in the next few years, thanks to a $98 million bond. A new middle school also will be built, but that won't happen for several years and it's not yet clear where it will be located.

The projects are meant to ease overcrowded schools in south Richland, as well as provide space for full-day kindergarten in the coming years and replace aging infrastructure.

Hansen's information demonstrated how the students attending the five central Richland schools and the five suburban schools could be distributed once the new schools open.

The analysis showed the central Richland schools having dozens more open slots than their suburban counterparts. Hansen said his data doesn't address those schools taking on any suburban students or population growth.

Cleary pointed out that there are some criteria the board has used in the past to guide school attendance boundaries, such as preserving neighborhoods, avoiding having students cross major streets and having contiguous boundaries so pockets of one school's students aren't surrounded by another school population.

However, district officials acknowledged that school attendance boundaries can be a contentious issue.

"It will still boil down to when you make a decision you'll have a room full of people who want to go someplace else," said board member Phyllis Strickler.

Cleary said that what the data demonstrates is that the district will have the capability of pursuing other programs and ideas with the additional space, such as a possible magnet school. Parents also will have more options if they want to move their student to another school, as some Richland schools are accepting almost no new transfers because of crowding.

Hansen said it would be best to have a decision on the boundaries by sometime next fall after substantial opportunity for the public to weigh in.

Also Tuesday:

w The district still is looking to possibly use the current Sacajawea Elementary School as temporary housing of Marcus Whitman students for a year, but not beyond that.

Administrators had earlier proposed keeping the school building open until as late as 2024 after a new Sacajawea is built next door to provide a transitional home for students whose schools are being rebuilt.

Neighbors around Sacajawea have criticized the district's proposal, saying it will create traffic problems and other issues. They've also complained about the district's placement of the new Sacajawea, saying it takes up green space and puts it too close to homes.

The district's original application to the city of Richland asked to use the old Sacajawea as temporary housing until 2024. However, Superintendent Rick Schulte said that likely wouldn't happen, partially because of the building's condition.

District officials also are examining using a new school being built in south Richland as temporary housing for some school projects. However, that could throw the district's building timelines off track and delay easing overcrowding in other south Richland schools. One Richland resident still spoke in favor of that approach.

"I think this order and approach would be less disruptive to the neighborhoods," said John Cox, who lives near Sacajawea.

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