Many concerns and questions remain about the proposal to switch some of Pasco's schools to a year-round schedule to ease overcrowding, judging by comments made during a public hearing Tuesday.
The Pasco School District held the forum to gauge public opinion while it is pondering solutions to free up space in its schools. Eleven more meetings are scheduled to prepare parents for the possible transition.
The proposed schedule change means there would be no more long, shared summer break at the elementary schools, which would begin to include sixth-graders. High and middle schoolers' schedules would remain the same, meaning they would be in school while their younger siblings are off for staggered 20-day periods throughout the year.
This appeared to the main cause for concern among about 30 parents and teachers who attended Tuesday's meeting.
One parent reminded the board to let parents know as soon as possible when their kids are going to be in school, because she would have to change her parenting plan that was agreed upon in court during a divorce. Changing it would once again involve the court, which takes time, she said.
Several teachers who work with kids from low-income families said they were very worried that the new schedule would mean their kids would be home alone for long periods of time. Parents who can't afford professional child care have older siblings watch the youngest kids while they are at work. That's impossible if the young kids are home all day at different times of the year than the older kids are, the teachers said.
The district is in the process of consulting with child care providers to find solutions to those problems, said John Morgan, Pasco schools' director of operations.
Other parents voiced frustrations that their older kids wouldn't spend the same amount of quality time with their younger siblings under the proposal.
The school board last week received the final report from a task force made up of parents, teachers and representatives of community organizations recommending elementary schools switch to the multi-track, year-round schedule once they exceed certain enrollment thresholds, which are yet to be determined.
The K-6 elementaries would shift to a 60/20 schedule, which means a school's students would be split up in four groups. Students go to school for 60 days, stay home for 20, go to school for 60, and so on.
The four groups would go to school on staggered schedules, so that only three-fourths of all students are in class at the same time.
The proposed plan also would bring schools into and out of the year-round schedule. This made some parents worried that they would adjust to the new schedule, only to have it revert to the old model if student enrollment drops.
The district is working on a model that would keep schools to stay on the new schedule for a set period of time once they switch, Morgan said.
Teachers voiced a number of professional concerns regarding the new schedule. Such issues would be addressed in bargaining agreements, said Superintendent Saundra Hill.
"Yes, there'll be lots to talk about," said Joy Reilly, president of Pasco's teachers' union, who sat in the audience.
Several questioned if the money needed to keep schools open all year -- some districts report adding more than $100,000 per school per year -- would be well spent.
A teacher from Livingston Elementary said her school's current enrollment is 843 students. If sixth grade were added to that, the number would swell to 994 students, she said. In the multi-track model, one-fourth of those students would be off at any given time, and 746 students would be in the building at any given time.
That means the proposal would reduce Livingston's current enrollment by 97 students, and the school still would be overcrowded, the teacher said.
Some questioned if the money wouldn't be better spent on new schools. But it costs about $26 million to build an elementary school, Hill said.
Costs to run schools vary greatly from state to state, and the district has not yet determined exactly how much multi-track, year-round schooling would cost in Pasco, Morgan said.
That prompted some to say they are concerned the district will make a decision so soon if it doesn't even know yet how much the move might cost.
A vote on the new schedule tentatively has been put on the agenda for Oct. 11.
The board will not take any action until its members are comfortable that they have all the information they need, Hill said.
Board member John Hergert echoed that. "We haven't made up our minds," he said.
But Hergert, a Lutheran pastor, also said that some faith will be involved in making this decision. The district is fast running out of options and it needs to get to work on a transition very soon if it wants to start school on the new schedule next summer.
"We won't have every single bit of information when we have to make this decision," he said.