Kennewick School Board considers overcrowding issue

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 16, 2014 

The Kennewick School Board will again consider a plan to move 83 students currently at Lincoln Elementary School to three other schools next year to ease overcrowding.

District administrators provided alternatives to the proposal during a board retreat Wednesday.

However, moving the students would be the least disruptive to families and ensure Lincoln doesn't have as many as six portables on its grounds, they said.

"We're just trying to create space where it works," said Superintendent Dave Bond.

Most board members agreed moving the students appears to be the best option, but board member Heather Kintzley said she is still leery, especially with other boundary adjustments related to new schools planned for the coming years.

"That's why I don't like doing this right now," she said. "We're going to be changing boundaries that will affect everything."

Lincoln's students and teachers currently attend classes in the Fruitland building near downtown Kennewick as their school undergoes renovations. District officials have said the school is already expected to have more students than would fit within the renovated building when students return in the fall.

Bond and other administrators have recommended shifting 20 students living in the Copper Ridge Apartments near Southridge High School to Southgate Elementary School, 33 students living in the Highlander Apartments between Second and Fourth avenues to Westgate Elementary School, and 30 students living around Johnson Street to Edison Elementary School.

Moving those students should allow the remaining students at Lincoln to not require any portable classrooms, though that could change if state lawmakers accelerate the implementation of all-day kindergarten, Bond said.

Some board members had expressed reservations about the plan, because it would displace students and potentially disrupt the socioeconomic mix at Lincoln. Most of the affected students come from low-income families, while most of the students that would remain at Lincoln do not.

Administrators suggested shifting varying numbers of Lincoln students to Southgate, Westgate, Edison, Hawthorne or Ridgeview elementary schools instead. Those solutions would do little to lessen Lincoln's crowding and created problems for the other schools and students, from overcrowding to long travel distances to and from classes.

The plan to move all 83 students would have some benefits for at least some of the shifted students, said Assistant Superintendent Greg Fancher. The students sent to Westgate would be close enough to walk to school rather than be bused. The additional teachers that would be needed at Westgate would actually lead to reduced class sizes.

While most board members said they could now see the benefits of Bond's recommendation, Kintzley wasn't fully convinced.

"I can tell which option you like because you've shrouded it in lollipops and kittens," she said. "I don't want to take lightly an adjustment that has a big effect on these students and families."

The board is planning to ask voters for a bond in about a year that would build two new elementary schools and a new middle school and pay for other projects.

Bond will bring the proposal back to the board at the next board meeting on Jan. 22 for a possible vote.

In other business, the board also considered another boundary change that would shift a planned 642-unit apartment complex from Cottonwood Elementary School to Ridgeview Elementary School, but no decision was made.

The proposed complex would be on a 46-acre site at Leslie Road and South Clodfelter Road. Bond suggested moving the complex, on which construction had not begun as of Wednesday, and nearby open land between Clearwater Avenue and Clodfelter because Cottonwood is overcrowded while Ridgeview has capacity.

A few board members objected to the plan, noting that the apartment complex is near Cottonwood. Moving it to another school attendance area didn’t pass the smell test, they said, especially because Cottonwood has the lowest number of students living in poverty and apartment complexes tend to have a higher percentage of students from struggling families.

The board agreed to put the proposal on hold until the complex is closer to construction.

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

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