Richland School Board keeps options open for increased enrollment

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 15, 2014 

Richland School Board members are keeping their options open in considering how to handle a growing number of students before new and enlarged schools open in the coming years.

Elementary school enrollment will increase by about 100 students next fall, district officials said during this week's board meeting. And about 250 to 300 new middle school students are expected in the next three years.

Superintendent Rick Schulte said some options, such as adding portable classrooms, need to be acted on quickly.

Board members said they wanted more information and possibly a recommendation from Schulte before deciding.

All the school projects are part of a $98 million bond approved by voters last year.

A new south Richland elementary school near Brantingham Road and Westcliffe Boulevard will open in fall 2015, along with two rebuilt central Richland elementary schools, Sacajawea and Lewis & Clark.

A rebuilt Marcus Whitman Elementary School, also in central Richland, is scheduled to reopen in 2016. A new middle school is to open in 2017, though it's not known yet where it will be built.

The new schools will allow the district to house its growing population, but short-term measures will be needed until then.

Along with adding portable classrooms, Schulte said the district might have to have larger class sizes, shift some students to less crowded schools or convert other spaces such as libraries and music rooms into general classrooms.

The middle schools could also use more "tennis shoe teachers" or teachers without a dedicated classroom, to teach students and provide educators planning time, Schulte said.

"We're going to need at least a few portables because that's a lot of middle school students," said board member Heather Cleary.

Also Tuesday night:

-- The district will begin collecting public input later this month on proposed changes to school boundaries to account for new and enlarged schools opening in 2015.

The first public meeting will be at Carmichael Middle School on Jan. 30. Further reviews will follow at February board meetings.

A group of district administrators and principals will meet beginning in March to fine-tune changes to school boundaries, with the public having another opportunity to comment on them in the fall.

-- Board member Phyllis Strickler was elected as chairwoman. Rick Donahoe was elected as vice chairman of the board. Board member Mary Guay will remain as the board's legislative representative.

-- Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; tbeaver@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald

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