During the past few weeks, the proposed boundaries changes at Spokane Public Schools have been transformed into lines in the sand.
As the process apparently nears the finish line, the district appears committed to getting it completed, while critics have raised the volume on equity and other issues.
The contentious issue will come up again Wednesday night during a special meeting, which will begin with a presentation of the revised proposal and end with discussion by board members.
In between, time has been set aside for one last round of public comment. Two weeks ago, the district was blistered by dozens of people who contended that the proposal was a step backward on the issue of equity, particularly for low-income neighborhoods in northeast Spokane.
“Any changes to our boundaries must make our schools more inclusive and equitable,” SPS graduate Katie Hawkinson said. “With these new changes, I’m particularly concerned about how funding for these schools will be affected by boundary changes.”
“For many years, northeast Spokane has been overlooked, under-resourced and underserved and this proposal of boundaries seems to kind of fit that same theme,” said Lindsey Shaw, who served on the Boundary Adjustment Committee.
A final decision is expected at the next regular board meeting on June 23.
The district, however, appears to be sending messages that few, if any, additional changes will be made to a process that began with committee meetings in January 2020.
Since its introduction to the school board in late March, the proposal has seen several changes, though none in the last month.
On Monday, school board President Jerrall Haynes appeared to take issue with contentions that the proposal would worsen inequality among schools.
He noted the process began more than five years ago with the introduction of an ultimately successful capital bond, which raised funds for the construction of three new middle schools and the replacement of three others.
“This is a historic moment, a decision the board of directors doesn’t take lightly,” said Haynes, one of three people of color on the board.
Recalling past boundary decisions in Spokane and in other places “at every turn, students of color and families of poverty have borne the brunt of those decisions.”
“What we’re going to do is carefully review the feedback as we do so,” Haynes said in a video message sent to district families on Monday night.
Repeating the message sent by the district on social media and during board meetings, Haynes also said that “free and reduced-price lunch rates are not the determiner of a quality school.”
Haynes backed up the comment by citing the 90% graduation rate at Rogers High School, which has the highest free and reduced lunch rates in the city.
Critics, however, point out that the gap between high- and low-achieving secondary schools will widen in many cases. For example, new Denny Yasuhara Middle School will have a free-and-reduced-lunch percentage approaching 90%.
The new Carla Peperzak Middle School, on the other hand, will draw on an upper South Hill demographic that will be the most favorable in the city.
The current proposal offers stability, walkability and predictability: 99% of its students in the same cohort. That means that should they stay in the same home, they will be able to stay together during their entire school career.
According to the district, the emphasis on cohorting and neighborhood schools will “bolster students’ sense of belonging, build students’ relational networks with teachers and other students and allow for meaningful parent-school collaborations, especially at the secondary levels.”
Critics say the district has overplayed the relative value of cohorting over narrowing the equity gap.
“Decisions of this magnitude should not be rushed through,” retired teacher Lili Hare said during the last forum. In the proposal, North Central High School will have higher free and reduced lunch rates.
“But unfortunately, the proposed boundaries revert most of the middle-class neighborhoods back to Shadle Park, give LC (Lewis and Clark) even less free and reduced lunch students and do very little to help the northeast schools, including Rogers, to be more socially economic and racially balanced. This further divides our schools,” Hare said.
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