March 17, 2011 in Washington Voices

CV school board mulls crowds

Failed bond compounds difficulties on east side of district
By The Spokesman-Review
 

Central Valley School District voters turned down a $69.6 million construction bond last month. Now, the district is taking a look at why the bond failed and what to do with overcrowded schools on the east side of the district.

Superintendent Ben Small made a recommendation to the school board Monday and took suggestions from board members as well.

Small explained to the board results of a survey conducted by CFM Strategic Communications, a research and marketing firm in Portland.

He said there were three main reasons the bond failed: concerns about the economy, a raise in taxes and the amount the district was seeking was too high.

“You can see some of the themes of the ‘no’ campaign,” Small told the board.

He also said that many voters connected with the $102.4 million price tag, instead of the $69.6 million in taxpayer contributions. Had the bond passed, the district would have received $32.8 million in state matching funds to make up the difference.

“I took the message seriously that we got from the community,” said board member Anne Long.

Long said she hoped when the capital facilities committee reconvenes, members of the community opposed to the bond would participate and offer suggestions to the district.

Reconvening the capital facilities committee is one of the recommendations Small gave the board. He said the committee probably wouldn’t review the conditions of the buildings this time. Members spent 15 months learning the challenges for each building, projects were prioritized and funding options discussed before the bond. Small said it was likely the committee would discuss financing projects and what to put before the voters in the future.

But the most immediate problem is overcrowding in the east side of the district. Slated for expansion and renovation on the bond last month was Evergreen Middle School, which would have accommodated overflow from Greenacres Middle School.

Even if the bond had passed the district would have needed to find a solution to this problem, since 293 new sixth-graders are expected to go to Greenacres this fall. With 261 seventh-graders and 261 eighth-graders, that would push the population of the school to 815 students – capacity is 783.

Small recommended that 32 of those incoming sixth-graders be bused to Evergreen in the fall, and they would not be recalled to Greenacres unless the class enrollment drops below 250 students.

District officials predict more students overflowing to Evergreen in coming years.

The Kindergarten Center is another challenge. In a building originally constructed in 1953 and updated in 1958, Small said there have been no upgrades since then. When the kindergarten students moved in, the district put in new carpet, energy-efficient windows and air conditioners for the individual rooms. There is no space for a gym or music classes and the HVAC system is beyond its lifespan.

The center now has 233 students and about 260 total are expected in the fall.

Small suggested eliminating the all-day kindergarten sections in that school.

He added that the district should start communicating to its families the possibility of busing students away from their neighborhood schools. Currently, when a student is overflowed to another school, the student is taken to their home school and then bused to the overflow school.

Small said the decision to overflow a student would depend on the enrollment date of the feeder school. Students last to enroll at the elementary school would be first on the list to go to another school.

Board member Debra Long asked if the district was going to have to break up families – some students would continue at Greenacres while their younger siblings may be going to Evergreen.

“They could be conceivably split up,” Small said.

Long asked Small if he could look into keeping students living within the mile bus radius at their neighborhood school. Cynthia McMullen, another board member, asked Small to see if it was feasible to keep students in geographical areas together, since she didn’t like the idea of one student attending one school while their next-door neighbor attended another.

The board didn’t take any action on Small’s recommendations Monday night and will discuss its options at the next meeting, March 28.

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