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School officials discuss student transfer policy

Thu., Dec. 13, 2012

Spokane Public Schools’ administration and board members have spent weeks trying to make changes to its intradistrict transfer policy to make sure neighborhood kids can go to their neighborhood school and students transferring into a school outside their neighborhood won’t have to leave.

Or something that “minimizes the problem to the degree that the problem is almost nonexistent,” said Bob Douthitt, school board president.

At Wednesday’s board meeting, school officials considered options for both primary and secondary schools but made no decisions.

The policy, which basically allows parents to choose the school they want their child to attend, no matter which school boundary the family lives in, left some K-6 schools too full to accommodate the nearest students. A handful of Wilson parents brought the issue to the board’s attention last spring.

Additionally, while the board was considering the intradistrict transfer policy, officials discovered enrollment problems in the high schools may be due to the way the boundaries are drawn, which have gone unchanged for three decades.

More than 65 elementary students were displaced from their neighborhood school this fall. About 1,500, or 10 percent, of Spokane Public Schools’ elementary school students are choice students, which means they’re attending a school outside their residential area. The practice is less common in the Mead and Central Valley school districts.

Multiple work sessions and suggestions from parents via email and public testimony have helped the administration narrow down the options.

For primary schools, the favored suggestion is to allow administrators to accept transfers based on historical patterns of enrollment rather than a static number, and reserve a small percentage of seats per grade level for students who may move into the neighborhood during the summer.

While board members liked the suggested change, Director Sue Chapin said she still wanted to see a notification date for transfer students later in the summer. Currently the date is early June. She suggested a time in August.

“Budget has driven this problem,” said Director Jeff Biernan. “The budget forced us to push class sizes up to limits and take away flexibility.”

Regarding the permanency of a transfer, the options included allowing a transfer student to stay at the school once that child has been accepted, which would mean no change to the current policy; and revoking the transfer of the last student accepted if a new student moves into the neighborhood. The latter option, however, could also include grandfathering in transfer students who were approved for enrollment before January 2013.

“I want to go with permanency, but I want to see a later notification date,” Chapin said.

While parents of the elementary children have been vocal on both sides this issue, high school parents largely have been quiet.

However, that might be about to change.

On Wednesday, administrators proposed considering a boundary shift that would increase enrollment at North Central and alleviate the problem at Lewis and Clark. The area that would be shifted to North Central is north of Spokane River to about Euclid and east of Walton to near Perry.

“Many students in that area (considered within the Lewis and Clark’s boundary) have been surprised they aren’t going to either Rogers or NC,” Superintendent Shelley Redinger said in a previous interview.

However, this “is just a proposal,” she said. “There will need to be many more conversations with the board and the community. We would also need to do a study.”

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