Meeting for Pasco school boundary proposal to continue Tuesday

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 19, 2014 

One west Pasco parent is excited about the possibility of her son attending Pasco's new science, technology, engineering and mathematics elementary school next year.

Jessica Levey has already filed paperwork for her son, who goes to Mark Twain Elementary School, to attend Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School if the family's home falls outside of the new school's boundary. Another Twain parent, Addie Noel, did the same for her two daughters.

"I like the (curriculum) model. I'm super excited about the model," Levey said.

But both parents said they're frustrated with the district's approach to opening the new school. They attended a Thursday meeting at Twain aimed at collecting feedback on Franklin's proposed boundary.

Five other elementary schools in west Pasco will see their boundaries shift when Franklin opens in the fall. The district will use feedback from Thursday's meeting and others to adjust the proposal before the Pasco School Board considers a final boundary later this month, school officials said.

The district plans to allow students who will be fifth-graders to remain at their current school or let families seek an exemption from attending the school within their new attendance zone. Families will have until the end of February to file those requests.

The 40 or so parents who gathered in Twain's lunchroom had a lot of questions about the new school's possible boundary, as well as concerns about Franklin's STEM curriculum and the equity in having such a program only available to some students. Most of all, though, they said they just want information.

"It's still very questionable what's happening," Noel said. "Will we get answers to our questions?"

Franklin is being built near Road 52 and Powerline Road, the first of three STEM,-focused schools paid for by a $46.8 million bond approved by voters last year.

Franklin's proposed attendance area would be entirely within McGee Elementary School's current boundary.

Under the proposed boundary changes, McGee would gain students from the Clark Addition, currently assigned to Edwin Markham Elementary School, as well as some homes north and south of Interstate 182 currently assigned to Mark Twain Elementary School.

However, another proposed boundary, posted to the district's website Friday, showed Franklin instead taking all the homes between roads 68 and 36 and north of Wrigley and Artesia drives, including the Clark Addition. Students south of Wrigley and Artesia but north of Interstate 182 would attend McGee, while families south of the interstate but living between Road 68 and Highway 395 would send their children to Twain.

District officials are holding informational meetings on the boundaries at all five of the affected schools.

A Wednesday meeting at McGee Elementary, which has nearly 1,000 students, had more than 100 people in attendance and took almost two hours, said Assistant Superintendent John Morgan.

Several parents at that meeting have suggested extending Franklin's boundary further north to ensure their children would go to the school closest to them.

"We're going to take your information," Morgan told people at Twain on Thursday. "It's not just going to sit in a box."

People attending the Twain meeting asked how they could "opt-in" their child to attend the new school, how many families would be allowed to transfer and whether it would be difficult to leave Franklin if a student doesn't like it there.

Morgan said "opt-in" requests were still being taken and families would be able to return to their old school if Franklin doesn't suit their children. Without a firm attendance boundary, it's unclear how many families will be able to transfer into the new school, he said.

Others at the meeting had more concerns than questions: Will boundaries change again in the future? Where's the fairness in using taxpayer dollars to pay for a special program that will be restricted to one part of the district? And how will STEM education, still a fairly new curriculum, fit into the rest of the district?

"My concern is you'll have a kid who's had five years of hands-on (STEM) learning and stick them behind a desk (in a traditional school)," Levey said.

Several parents said they'd struggled to get information about Franklin, the boundaries and STEM education, with notices sent home from school with students not always showing up or being discovered later in a backpack.

"Can the district mail some things home?" one parent asked.

The district aims to keep boundaries in place as long as possible but growth has to be considered, Morgan said. He encouraged people with questions about the STEM curriculum and its implementation to contact planning Principal Deidre Holmberg, though one parent said he had spoken with Holmberg and not received the answers he needed.

Morgan asked people to write down their desire to see information provided in other formats as well as their other questions.

And in response to questions about the district's move to STEM education in the new schools, Morgan said the district has to start somewhere.

"We don't see any disadvantage to it whatsoever," he said.

Public input on proposed boundary

West Pasco residents can attend a public meeting at Maya Angelou Elementary School, 6001 N. Road 84, to give input on the proposed boundary for Rosalind Franklin STEM Elementary School.

The meeting will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday.

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

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