SUPERINTENDENT UPDATE

Superintendent Mark Ross

Difficult Decisions Ahead

Last December, the topic of my column was how difficult a decision it is for a superintendent to cancel school due to inclement weather. While I still do not look forward to such a “no win” situation, there is another decision that superintendents and school boards must make that can be just as daunting. That is, how do we adjust boundaries to address overcrowding or when new schools are built.

As we are all aware, our community has seen continual growth for the past few years. For the school district, that growth has particularly impacted schools in the southern end of our district. As an example, Glenwood Primary, a school built in the 1950s to hold 480 students, now has a population of 820 students, 60 percent of whom are taught in portable classrooms.

Last school year, the district ran two bond measures that failed to pass with the required 60 percent supermajority. The bonds would have replaced the Glenwood/Laurin and Pleasant Valley schools and built a new K-8 campus to relieve overcrowding in our southern schools. Since the beginning of this year, the school board has engaged in a process to look at alternative options for addressing the overcrowding, including school boundary adjustments.

In September, an Overcrowding Committee of parents, community members and district staff started a six-week process to meet the school board’s request to bring forward some options to address overcrowding in the district. On Nov. 5, the overcrowding committee presented the school board with six options that they had developed. At its Nov. 26 meeting, the board voted to narrow the options to three to bring forward to the community for input.

During the month of December and into January, the district will hold three community forums to discuss the boundary change options, allow for clarifying questions, and give the public the opportunity to provide feedback in a survey format. Copies of the survey and the maps of the proposed boundary change options will also be available on the district’s website starting in December. It is anticipated that the school board will make a final determination about boundary changes at one of its regular board meetings in January.

Nobody looks forward to having to change school boundaries. However, the school board and I also realize how detrimental it can be to a child’s education to be in a school that does not have enough space. It isn’t just cramped classrooms that pose a challenge. Core facilities such as gyms, cafeterias, libraries, art rooms, etc. need to adequately accommodate all of the students in a building. Portable classrooms mean that students have to brave the elements and travel longer distances outside to see specialists such as nurses and counselors and to receive services from teachers in special programs. For me, it’s an issue of equity to make sure that all of our students have the same access to the facilities and services they need to optimize their educational experience.

We cannot be certain how long changing school boundaries will relieve overcrowding in the district. We know that housing developments will continue to be built in our area for years to come. Eventually, we will need to build new schools that have the capacity to accommodate our growing population, are updated with the most current safety features, and fit the needs of today’s career and college-ready learning standards.

Along with the school board and superintendents throughout the state, I will be working with our local legislators to find ways to provide growing districts with better options for school construction that do not overburden taxpayers. We are not the only district in Washington to have a bond receive a majority of the votes, yet not quite reach the 60 percent supermajority threshold that is required to pass.

In last month’s general election, 17 school districts ran measures to build new schools, but only five of those measures passed with 60 percent of the vote. As Battle Ground did the last three elections, most of the districts had a majority of voters approve their bonds, but the approval failed to reach the supermajority. School bonds are the only measures required by the state constitution to pass with a supermajority.

Consequently, I will be working with legislators to support changing the state’s constitutional supermajority requirement. Perhaps in the future school boundary changes can be a less challenging decision.

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