It has been four decades since school boundaries were redrawn across Spokane.
And for good reason.
Drawing lines on a map is harder than it looks, especially when those lines can affect children for the rest of their lives.
However, Spokane Public Schools has no choice. With passage of the 2018 capital bond and the pending addition of three new middle schools, the district must decide where those students will go to high school.
The district’s newly formed Boundary Adjustment Committee also will examine current elementary school boundaries and consider any changes in how and where those students move on to middle school.
The process will go through spring 2021, but the effects could last for decades.
The school board considered the topic last week during a meeting that was half informational and half pep talk.
Also in the room was Harium Martin-Morris, a consultant and former Seattle Public Schools board member.
Speaking from experience, Martin-Morris warned board members that for the next year or so, they shouldn’t be surprised when members of the public confront them over the touchy issue.
“It’s one of the most difficult things that board members have to do,” said Martin-Morris, who now sits on the state Board of Education.
“You’ll be in the grocery store minding your own business and a constituent is going to whale on you and say ‘This has to be done and this has to be done,’ ” Martin-Morris said.
Besides urging board members to avoid making promises to those constituents, Martin-Morris asked them to trust the methodology and the 40-member committee, which will hold meetings roughly every other week before completing a draft for community input by the end of the year.
After receiving public input, the committee will complete a review and make five final recommendations to the board by May 12, 2021.
In the meantime, board members – one or two of whom will be on the committee – will be able to follow its progress.
But after warning board members that the committee will bring “you back a boatload of stuff,” Martin-Morris cheered them up.
“You’re doing this for a good reason: You’re building three new middle schools. Most of the time it’s because something bad has happened.”
Spokane Public Schools has made minor boundary adjustments in recent years, but hasn’t performed major boundary changes since 1982, when ninth-graders were moved to high school.
Ten years earlier, in 1972, new lines were drawn after the closure of several elementary schools, according to Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson.
Once again, the committee – which includes members drawn evenly from all parts of the city – will work from a blank map.
They will have much to consider in setting new boundaries, but some guidelines were established by the Boundary Implementation Study Committee.
Among the most important, according to district documents, “is to support neighborhood communities by developing attendance boundaries” that support walkability, recognize natural and artificial boundaries, and keep neighborhoods together.
Those goals appear to be directed toward keeping cohesive neighborhoods around elementary schools.
At the same time, the district hopes that “each school in the district should be a high-quality school offering attractive programming and supporting student achievement.”
To level the socioeconomic differences between neighborhoods, the committee might consider more drastic changes in the middle schools and high schools.
For example, the North Side will eventually have six middle schools feeding into three high schools: Rogers, North Central and Shadle Park.
Currently, some students from distant Five Mile are bused to North Central. With the addition of a new middle school on the current Albi Stadium site, the committee could recommend a more contiguous approach and send those students (along with those from Glover) to Shadle Park.
However, that move might lower the overall socioeconomic level at North Central.
Another source of socioeconomic inequality could be the new middle school planned for the upper South Hill, adjacent to Mullan Road Elementary School.
The new school is located in one of the more prosperous sections of town, and it’s unclear how any lines could be drawn to mitigate that.
Moreover, the committee will be hard-pressed to avoid splitting the school’s students between Ferris and Lewis and Clark high schools.
Assuming that happens, expect the Ferris and LC attendance areas to expand northward and capture more neighborhoods north of the Spokane River.
No matter what, the district promises to offer plenty of opportunities for public input from late 2020 to spring 2021, online and through social media.