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Beaverton City Council steps into school boundary discussion

Council members want to wrangle South Cooper Mountain into one district


PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP PHOTO: ALVARO FONTAN - The Beaverton School District will soon begin building a new high school at this intersection of Southwest Scholls Ferry Road and 175th Avenue in the South Cooper Mountain. Just beyond the trees at the far side of the field is the Hillsboro School District boundary.

The majority of the Beaverton City Council has made it clear that they’ve chosen sides in a behind-the-scenes discussion about redrawing the lines between the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts.

Beaverton City Council President Mark Fagin said at least two other council members, along with Beaverton Mayor Denny Doyle, would like to see school district boundaries shifted so that their future neighborhood in South Cooper Mountain isn’t split between school districts.

Currently the school boundary cuts through what is lightly populated farmland on the ground, but is a heavily populated suburban landscape on planning maps.

Indeed, as currently situated, many of the future homes and neighborhoods expected to be part of Beaverton’s forthcoming South Cooper Mountain area will be located within the Hillsboro School District. Similarly, many homes expected to be built in the coming South Hillsboro area are located within the Beaverton School District.

Fagin and some of his fellow city councilors would like to fix that.

“Part of the glue that holds a community together is the school,” Fagin said this week. “Just from a straight-up logic standpoint, it didn’t make any sense to me. We need to be saying this. We need to get this fixed.”

The timing is ideal, Fagin suggested, because the Beaverton School District may be able to swap land with its Hillsboro counterpart in a way that benefits both. Just as Beaverton city planners are mapping the future of South Cooper Mountain, the city of Hillsboro is planning a similar farmland-to-suburbia transformation of the South Hillsboro area west of Aloha, which is tracking about a year behind plans for South Cooper Mountain. And like the new Beaverton neighborhood, a boundary between the two school districts also divides South Hillsboro.

Fagin said he and two other council members have called on members of the Beaverton School Board to share their opinions in recent months, even though a potential boundary swap process would go through the districts’ boards rather than city councils.

“The purpose of the calls was really informational,” simply to make it clear where Beaverton city leaders stood on the matter, Fagin said.

“We’ve just been asking more and more people the question: Why would that not be a good idea?” said Marc San Soucie, another council member involved in the discussions.

Hillsboro School Board member Glenn Miller has been asking the same question. Two months ago, he presented a proposal to his board asking the two school districts to begin formal discussions about potential land swaps in South Cooper Mountain, South Hillsboro and potentially other places where the boundaries don’t fit the districts’ abilities to serve students.

Miller estimated at the time that the swaps would save the Hillsboro district at least $10 million because it could build more wisely, while being at least revenue neutral for Beaverton. Miller expects Hillsboro School District financial director Adam Stewart’s review of his proposal to reveal even larger savings, and he wants the board to act on his proposal within a month or two.

The Hillsboro board will look at Stewart’s findings during its April 28 work session, Hillsboro district spokeswoman Beth Graser confirmed this week.

“The timing really is now, if ever. It would be much more difficult to do this after any construction begins,” Miller said Tuesday. “I think this is, frankly, a no-brainer. I wouldn’t want to do a deal that is bad for either side.”

Clearly, Miller hasn’t convinced all members of the Hillsboro School Board.

Member Janeen Sollman wasn’t happy to hear that Beaverton elected officials were calling Beaverton School Board members, part of what she considers a string of backroom conversations about a potential land swap.

“It’s dirty pool,” she said Tuesday. “The whole thing, I don’t understand it.”

Sollman said her district has a formal boundary change process, one she believes is being bypassed by such conversations. She would like the process to be worked out in the open, at the school board level.

“To me it seems like a lot of side conversations,” she said. “Rather than doing this piece by piece, why don’t we have a larger discussion?”

Talk of unifying the incorporated part of South Cooper Mountain under one school district isn’t new, but it has taken on renewed urgency as the first homes in the 544-acre area are likely to be under construction later this year on the Beaverton School District side of the line. Home-building could be a few years off on the Hillsboro School District side because it is not yet served by utilities.

Meanwhile, the Beaverton School District also is working through the land-use process in hopes of breaking ground on its next high school this year, and BSD attendance boundaries will change with construction of the high school and two other new schools.

As it stands, future homeowners on the west side of the new Beaverton high school’s fence would send their children to Hillsboro schools, including Groner Elementary School in Scholls, three and a half miles away, while Scholls Heights Elementary School in Beaverton is less than a mile away. The Beaverton district also could consider buying additional school property in the heart of South Cooper Mountain.

Hillsboro mayor Jerry Willey said the Hillsboro City Council has been largely hands-off on the issue so far.

“I’ve had a couple of casual conversations ... with a couple of (Hillsboro) School Board members, but that’s about as far as that’s gone,” he said. “We don’t have a formal position, but if we were to talk about it, we would want to assist the Hillsboro School District in doing what is best for the district and the students.”

For their part, Beaverton School District officials are waiting for Hillsboro to act.

Beaverton School District Superintendent Jeff Rose acknowledged the conversations with city leaders and said that staff members from both districts have also talked.

But he said the process is in the Hillsboro board’s court because the first discussions were about the Hillsboro district potentially ceding South Cooper Mountain territory to the Beaverton district. The South Hillsboro land swap idea came later.

“There can’t be a strategy of one district taking” from the other, Rose said. “At this point, there is no dispute between the Hillsboro School Board and Beaverton (board members).”

Mary VanderWeele and Anne Bryan, the Beaverton School Board’s chair and vice chair, respectively, said their board has not discussed boundary changes in a formal matter, but informal discussions have occurred between individual members.

For example, VanderWeele recalled a conversation about the issue she had with Mayor Doyle at least a month ago. He got the same message as anyone else, she said.

“As a board, we’ve been very clear we would consider a proposal if it was acceptable to Hillsboro.”

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