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CV schools’ space crunch in dispute

Thu., April 19, 2007, midnight

A former Central Valley board member says the district is being dishonest with its patrons about the looming space issue in the school district.

There is no “housing crisis,” says Craig Holmes, who stepped down from the five-member school board in 2005.

Although school district officials dispute his assertion, Holmes insists that despite an overall enrollment surge in the Spokane Valley school system, about 40 fewer students were housed in district elementary and middle schools in 2005-06 compared with 10 years prior. And that was before Liberty Lake Elementary School was built.

“I think this is really a crisis of trust,” said Holmes, who took his message Tuesday to a district facilities meeting with the community. He believes many of the district’s crowding problems could be resolved through aggressive restructuring of programs rather than ambitious multimillion dollar bond issues.

School officials described Holmes’ conclusions as overly simplistic and suggest he failed to take into account the expanding demand for special education, computer labs and other programs, which take away traditional classroom space. Overall, the district’s enrollment has grown by 1,550 students since 1996.

“Things are not as they were 10 years ago,” said Debra Long, board president.

In the aftermath of three failed attempts at passing a construction bond that would help alleviate growth issues by building new schools and updating others, the district assembled a committee of parents, students, staff and community members to gather suggestions on what to do next.

“Apparently the community is not feeling a bond … so we said, ‘Here’s a blank sheet. Tell us what to do,’ ” Long said.

Holmes, who resigned from the board because of family issues, said he has approached members of the board with his concerns but has not been heard.

“I think it’s real destructive the way they’ve approached this bond,” Holmes said of the district. “I can’t tell voters to approve something I don’t think is true.”

The crux of Central Valley’s problems lies within the Liberty Lake area, where schools are over capacity and housing developments continue to grow. Other schools across the district are also feeling the pinch.

The most recent bond of $75 million would have paid for a new middle school and elementary school in and near Liberty Lake and other improvements.

After the most recent bond failure in November, school officials suggested implementing extreme measures including year-round school, double shifting, and discontinuing some programs.

But Holmes said the need for such drastic measures was made under false pretenses. By asking for money to build one new elementary school and cutting back some school programs, some of the district’s problems would be solved, Holmes said. The district doesn’t need an expensive bond issue, just some restructuring, he said.

Holmes noted that during the 1997-1998 school year, when Bowdish Middle School was closed for renovations, students were sent to North Pines. With just 350 fewer middle school students than it has now, the district was able to operate with four middle schools instead of five without any crowding issues, he said.

Also during that year, Keystone and Blake Elementary schools were both being used as traditional schools. Both now house only alternative programs. Liberty Lake didn’t open until 1998.

The district says it’s true there are fewer students in elementary buildings than before Liberty Lake was built, but there is a greater need to house programs, including special education. The number of classrooms designated for special education has risen from 53 to 63 since 1999, district spokeswoman Melanie Rose said.

The committee will continue to take the community’s input, then come together April 30 to prepare a recommendation for the school board. They certainly will consider Holmes input in that process, Long said.

“There is more to looking at this issue than just numbers,” Long said. “We provide education for all children; not just a few children. As the board of directors we have an obligation to always look at programs for all students.”


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