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Beaverton boundary committee gets an earful

New neighborhoods join fray as Beaverton district redraws high school attendance areas

TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Beaverton School District parent Robert Jones was one of more than 70 people who testified Tuesday night about the ongoing process to draw new attendance boundaries for the districts high schools.Of the more than 70 people who spoke during a public hearing Tuesday night, most had a beef with the Beaverton School District High School Boundary Advisory Committee's latest draft of its evolving attendance area map.

But before launching into specific concerns, many took a moment to thank the committee members for taking on what several termed “a thankless task.”

And a few speakers — notably from the Oak Hills neighborhood north of Sunset Highway, where an earlier draft proposal that would have split the area between two high schools was mended under the latest version — just wanted to thank the committee altogether.

But with the controversial nature of boundary changes, it was no surprise that contented speakers were in the minority.

“I don’t envision a silver bullet solution that’s going to make everybody happy,” Superintendent Jeff Rose acknowledged to an audience numbering in the hundreds at Southridge High School.

Rose has the final say in boundary issues but has largely stayed out of the process while the committee worked on its recommendations to him. So has the Beaverton School Board, although several members were present Tuesday night to quietly listen to comments.

Rose thanked committee members, two-thirds of whom are community volunteers representing all five of the current high school attendance areas. The other third are principals or other building administrators who didn’t have a choice about participating but whom Rose praised for their insight on how the process affects their own schools and the wider district.

Those committee members will consider the hearing testimony and additional written comments — the latter now numbering in the thousands — when it reconvenes for another work session March 3.

They will have plenty to consider, including many pained pleas from district parents and students.

New opposition

Some of the rawest hurt voiced at the hearing came from residents of neighborhoods who largely had been satisfied and silent until a new draft map released late last week swept them in unexpected directions.

Many of the newly vocal patrons live in the Waterhouse and Stonegate neighborhoods north of Walker Road between 158th and 173rd avenues, where residents expected students to stay at Westview High or possibly move to nearby Sunset High but were surprised to suddenly find themselves in a peninsula-like “thumb” that would instead feed their students south to Aloha High.

Sam Behunin, a father living in that new “thumb” area, said a simple look at an aerial map proves their contention that their neighborhood is far more connected with surrounding neighborhoods slated to attend Westview and Sunset and tied in any way to Aloha.TIMES PHOTO: ADAM WICKHAM - Beaverton School District parents consider the new high school boundary map on Tuesday night.

“I respectfully ask that you consider my neighborhood not numerically, but functionally,” Behunin said.

Another area that marshaled multiple speakers was the Sexton Mountain Elementary neighborhood, which in earlier drafts had been included in the boundary area for the new high school under construction at South Cooper Mountain, but with the latest edition moved to Southridge High on the other side of Murray Boulevard.

Anna Grass said that after her son, a Sexton Mountain student, was critically injured by a sneaker wave, it was families from nearby Nancy Ryles, Cooper Mountain and Scholls Heights elementrary schools, along with Sexton Mountain, who offered the most support because they feel part of one community. Most students from those other schools are currently slated to attend the new school.

Both of those neighborhoods, under the current map draft, either are within or would help form oddly shaped attendance areas jutting far to the north of both Aloha High and the new high school. Students in those panhandle areas, if the current map were adopted, would live closer to two, three or even four other high schools other than the one they would attend based on the latest iteration of the bundary map.

While other district high schools’ boundary areas are more compact, often-conflicting forces such as neighborhood unity, equity between higher and lower income areas, and simple facts of geography and capacity are among factors that tug the lines in different directions.

Residents of other neighborhoods, such as a southern tip of the Hiteon Elementary area recently pulled into the new school’s boundary and away from most of Hiteon’s student body, as well as the upper west side of Cooper Mountain now slated to go to Aloha High, also felt cut out of their communities.

Some of the district’s elementary school boundaries also will shift for the 2017-18 school year, with that process coming on the heels of the high school boundary work expected to conclude this spring. It’s a certainty elementary boundaries will change in the crowded north side of the district, where a new elementary school is under construction, but less clear whether attendance areas in other parts of the district will be realigned.

Many parents who spoke Tuesday asked the committee to give more weight to priorities such as transportation, safety and neighborhood unity by redrawing lines so more students attend their nearest high school.

Among them, residents of the West Tualatin View Elementary neighborhood north of Sunset Highway continued their months-long campaign for a return to the Sunset High attendance area, saying the trip down busy roadways to Beaverton High is simply too dangerous for teenage drivers. They provided accident data that they argued reveals higher traffic hazards behind the current proposal, including riskier commutes to other schools as well.

Meanwhile, at least some residents in the Raleigh Hills, Garden Home and Highland neighborhoods don’t want to be left out of Beaverton High, which they consider their community school more so than Southridge.

New territory

Of existing high schools, Beaverton and Southridge potentially would see the largest numbers of new students. With the latest draft and transition plans, about a third of each school’s population in its first year would be newcomers.

Much of Southridge’s current territory would move to the new school and many of Beaverton High’s traditional neighborhoods would transfer to Southridge. Beaverton would fill its classes with a similar number of students shifting south from Sunset High School, one of the district’s most crowded campuses.

Aloha and Sunset would cede significant neighborhoods to other schools while picking up relatively smaller percentages of new territory. The boundary for Westview High — another packed building — would shrink closer to campus.

A number of speakers also encouraged the district to continue further down a path that would make the transitions into new school boundaries less painful.

The committee already has firmly recommended keeping both juniors and seniors at their current schools when new boundaries take effect in September 2017, meaning the new school would open that fall with just freshmen and sophomores and using only a third of its capacity.

Some audience members testified that sophomores and younger siblings of those juniors and seniors also should be allowed to attend schools in the historic boundary areas. The committee still has work to do on those and other questions, but members and district staff have noted that accommodating more grade levels creates ever-widening impacts and costs across the district.

Some speakers Tuesday also lamented the still-wide disparity among some school populations, noting that under the latest draft, 58 percent of Aloha High’s students have incomes low enough to qualify for free and reduced lunches while just 14 percent of the student body within Sunset’s proposed boundary live in low-income households. Ethnic disparities are similarly wide.

Matthew Byers, Aloha High’s junior class vice president, feels like his school is being neglected.

“Stop using Aloha as a rug to sweep the district’s problems under,” he said.

Learn more

For additional details, see the High School Boundary Adjustment Process page on the Beaverton School District’s website. Scroll down for the latest maps, which are linked to the most recent meeting on the committee calendar.