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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane Public Schools nearing end of work on contentious issue of new boundaries

Spokane Public Schools is redrawing boundaries, collecting concerns from upset parents.  (JESSE TINSLEY)
Spokane Public Schools is redrawing boundaries, collecting concerns from upset parents. (JESSE TINSLEY)

During a recent online forum on proposed boundary changes at Spokane Public Schools, district staff must have smiled at one encouraging post.

It read in part: “It’s clear to me that this committee has thoroughly researched and considered every possible option to provide the best outcome for all students. Now we know why it took 40 years.”

It continued: “Thank you to all on this committee, employees and parent volunteers alike, who are in this arena doing this difficult work.”

Hundreds of other posts were less charitable – no surprise, considering the proposal will affect tens of thousands of students and their families for perhaps another 40 years.

Complaints include those from citizens who worry that the boundaries will create more inequalities among schools, particularly at the secondary level; and from parents whose children are being moved to what they consider less desirable schools.

That’s what was expected – another reason boundaries are redrawn so infrequently.

However, the district has gone out of its way to be transparent, even down to the maps.

In addition to the four online chat-based forums, the district has posted before-and-after maps on what boundaries will look like at the elementary and secondary level. Users can scroll over a map and instantly view the proposed changes.

The district also has posted an extensive Q&A section, explaining the complexities of the district’s policies on choice and Legacy, or grandfathering.

On Thursday at 7 p.m., KSPS will broadcast a 30-minute discussion about the boundary change process with Associate Superintendent Mark Anderson, Budget Director Craig Numata and Megan Read, a district parent who sits on the Boundary Adjustment Committee.

Currently, the district and its Boundary Adjustment Committee are reviewing the feedback and will re-examine their work before presenting a final recommendation to the school board on May 27.

Yet even after that, there will be a public hearing on June 2, and the board will continue to take public comment at meetings on June 16 and June 23.

Final adoption is expected in late June or early July, with the changes to take effect in the fall of 2022 on the north side and a year later on the South Hill.

The current proposal is the product of months of work – including more than 100 maps – by the 40-member Boundary Adjustment Committee.

“They really went beyond the call,” said Anderson, noting that some panelists toured neighborhoods to compare drive times to different schools.

However, transparency goes only so far, especially for families who will face upheaval in the next few years.

The maps reveal that the committee prioritized workability and cohorting – that is keeping as many children together as possible as they advance in grade level.

A lower priority appears to be socioeconomic equity among schools, particularly at the secondary level.

For example, the proposal would create two new middle schools that would sit at demographic extremes.

The attendance area for the new South Hill middle school would include mostly middle-class neighborhoods, with a 32% free and reduced-price lunch percentage that would be the lowest in the district.

Meanwhile, the new middle school on Foothills Drive in northeast Spokane would have the most challenging demographic in the city – 88% receiving free and reduced-price meals.

“Is there a way where we can balance the needs of keeping kids together and making sure that we create more equity?” one forum participant wrote.

Another was even more specific: “How can we expect schools with free and reduced lunch numbers in the 30s to benefit from the same quality of opportunities as schools in the 80s? I see significant discrepancies in quality of athletic, art, and other extracurricular opportunities, for example.”

The problem of inequitable educational opportunity – a major issue for several board members – was raised by several parents.

“Not all schools have the same quality standards,” one wrote. “So for instance, at Lewis and Clark, my rising 10th grader is enrolled in several AP classes; will those same AP classes be available across all schools?”

Even more strident were the objections of parents whose students are being shifted from one school to another.

Currently, most students in the River Run neighborhood (located north of the Finch Arboretum and west of the Spokane River) are attending Hutton Elementary, Sacajawea Middle School and Lewis and Clark.

The new boundaries would send them to Finch Elementary, Glover Middle School and North Central High School.

However, as Numata pointed out several times in forums and other events, Hutton is so overcrowded that some specialty rooms have been given up to classrooms.

“They’re using every space they have,” Numata said.

Frustrated parents counter that they purchased homes in the middle-class River Run neighborhood partly because of the schools they expected their children to attend.

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