Richland School District gets input from parents on school criteria

Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 30, 2014 

Preserving neighborhood schools. Keeping busing times down. Considering where student enrollment is booming.

Those were just a few of the criteria more than 20 parents said they want considered as the Richland School District prepares to redraw school boundaries with the opening of new and enlarged schools.

Adjusting attendance boundaries is always a difficult subject, district officials said. A few parents were concerned the district doesn't seem to be considering how the changing boundaries will affect Jefferson Elementary School in central Richland, particularly when it comes to walking distances for students.

The district will open a new south Richland elementary school and rebuilt and enlarged Sacajawea and Lewis & Clark elementary schools in fall 2015. A rebuilt and enlarged Marcus Whitman Elementary School will open in fall 2016, while a new middle school is expected to open around 2017.

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

Developing boundary proposals will be a nine-month process, Hansen said, with a committee of school- and district-level administrators eventually submitting a few proposals to the school board for a final decision.

There was no discussion of specific boundaries at Thursday's meeting. It was more an opportunity for families to weigh in on what they want considered when mapping them and to learn about how they will be drawn.

"Any time you mention boundaries, you can stir up emotions because people could be affected," he said.

The district already has some criteria from past boundary adjustments it plans to consider. They include keeping a neighborhood school approach, avoiding having students cross major roads or natural barriers and balancing socio-economic and ethnic mixes.

But parents also want the district to consider how special programs will be affected, especially for students who are in programs not at their home school. They also want consideration given to the growth in West Richland and the location of a future middle school.

Jefferson parents asked why there was little consideration being given to their school's boundaries, especially because some bond dollars are set to be used to address the school's 60-year-old classroom wing.

The district's walkability metric -- students who live within a mile of the school do not get bused -- could threaten to take kids away from Jefferson, said Cheryl Vorvick, who has a child at the school. She wants a shorter distance standard in determining student walkability.

"It just seems like we need different criteria," she said of Richland's older and denser neighborhoods.

Board Chairwoman Phyllis Strickler said Jefferson students will be accommodated but the board hasn't determined yet what that will look like so its role in the boundary changes is uncertain.

The school's general K-5 population will remain there, but Strickler said there's a possibility that other programs housed there, such as a preschool program, could be moved.

Kevin Marsh, a south Richland parent with three children in school, said keeping students closest to their homes is his top concern. Other criteria, such as balancing socio-economic and ethnic distribution, could end up putting kids in buildings far outside their neighborhoods.

"Kids can get lost in the static," he said.

But the process of determining where students attend school in future years is just beginning. Several parents said they were at the meeting just to learn how the process will go and how they can give input.

And there will be plenty of opportunity for the public to have its say, officials said.

"There's some very tough decisions, hard decisions over the coming year," said Assistant Superintendent Mike Hansen.

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

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