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Spokane school board postpones boundary decision: ‘We’re not trying to rush things’

UPDATED: Thu., June 17, 2021

Spokane Public Schools will seek more engagement from the community before committing to a sweeping boundary proposal, board members decided during a special meeting Wednesday night.

During a two-hour discussion heavy with hand-wringing, most board members appeared to concur with the proposal, which was the product of 16 months of work by the district’s Boundary Adjustment Committee.

Sentiments appeared to shift sharply, however, following a proposal from board member Jenny Slagle to “not rush things” and get additional perspectives from the public, particularly students.

Slagle didn’t offer any specifics, or what topics would need to be revisited, but the decision to defer potentially opens the door to more public comment.

That also will take more time, acknowledged Slagle, who didn’t want those discussions to occur during the vacuum of summer vacation.

At that point, Superintendent Adam Swinyard asked board members to convey questions to district staff via email, with potential action to follow. That could still happen as soon as next week, although it appears unlikely.

Board President Jerrall Haynes, who also is a member of the district’s Boundary Review Committee, countered that “our community has used a lot of oxygen in the last two years on this subject.”

“At some point we are going to have to make a decision,” Haynes said. “And I don’t see this as something where we can bring the entire community along.”

Slagle’s proposal came after a first reading of the proposal from associate Superintendent Mark Anderson that emphasized the value of cohorting students and maintaining walkability, while cautioning the board not to overemphasize statistics on free and reduced-price meals.

Board discussion began immediately after hearing from a handful of community members. Director Nikki Lockwood, who also served on the boundary committee, backed the proposal during a special meeting June 2 and did so again on Wednesday.

Recalling her work on the committee, Lockwood said, “We were really looking at serving students where they live, leaning on options and choice as backups” to mitigate potential negative effects on equity.

Board member Mike Wiser had also agreed with the proposal June 2, but raised concerns Wednesday about the middle and high school boundaries in north Spokane.

Wiser revisited the discussion from two weeks ago about exploring a magnet program at Denny Yasuhara Middle School, which will open during fall 2022 on Foothills Drive.

Board member Aryn Ziehnert also backed the proposal, saying, “I tend to find myself on the idea of a cohort model.”

Haynes had already expressed strong support for the boundary proposal, which appeared headed toward approval until Slagle spoke.

She pressed Anderson, who acknowledged that the boundary committee lost half of its members who hailed from northeast Spokane, presumably because they were dissatisfied with the process.

One committee member, Lindsey Shaw, told the board, “I found myself very frustrated. I know we can do better.” Shaw asked the board to consider “the value of having a second look.”

Slagle urged the board to do just that. “We’re not trying to rush things,” she said.

Hearing no objections to Slagle’s proposal, Haynes gave the go-ahead for colleagues to gather more information from district staff.

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