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Groups make final arguments to sway school boundary decision

One parent group willing to sue if district leaders refuse to redraw map.

TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - Abby McLaughlin, 6, held up a sign in March to try to sway a committee's decision on high school boundaries. The Beaverton School Board could sign off on the process as early as Monday.
An attorney at one of Portland’s largest law firms has suggested that parents he represents may sue the Beaverton School District if officials don’t redraw proposed changes to the district's high school boundaries, which would shift some of his clients’ children to schools farther from their homes.

References to potential legal action were made in a 33-page letter that Perkins Coie attorney Stephen M. Feldman delivered to the Beaverton School Board’s legal counsel last month. The letter sought a meeting between board members and a group that calls itself Sensible Boundaries for Beaverton Schools.

That meeting never was granted, but members of Sensible Boundaries, as well as other community groups, have met individually with board members to try to make their cases before the board meets again next week, according to several sources.

Jason Cowart, one of the more active Sensible Boundaries members, said he hopes their group’s detailed data will convince board members to reject the proposal as written. Superintendent Jeff Rose already has accepted the plan but needs board members to sign off that the process was followed.

TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - Some West Tualatin View Elementary area parents continue to lobby for a revised boundary that would keep their kids at Sunset High School. One group has suggested that legal action could follow if they don't get the district to re-evaluate the currently proposed attendance map. The Beaverton School Board will consider whether its procedures were followed.“I think right now our focus really is on (convincing) the board,” Cowart said. “Obviously, we still have a legal option open to us.”

Feldman’s letter has now been posted on the Sensible Boundaries website.

In exhaustive detail, it outlines arguments aimed at convincing the board to vote against the current boundary proposal, suggesting that the appointed boundary advisory committee made up of principals and parents who devised the plan over a six-month span did not follow the board’s procedures and that enrollment projections it used were based on flawed data.

Amid the arguments, the letter suggests that the committee placed too much weight on trying to balance numbers of lower-income children — those who qualify for free and reduced meals at school — at the expense of students who live closer to campus.

But members of another group, Outstanding Education for Every Child, believe the district should instead have made it a higher priority to balance student bodies by equity and diversity, and less on proximity, to help make all schools equally as attractive.

That group notes that the current map would result in just 15 percent of Sunset High’s students qualifying for meal subsidies, while half or more of the students who will attend Aloha, Beaverton and Southridge high schools starting in 2017 will come from lower-income families.

The boundary advisory committee drew some lines that, for example, would bring wealthier neighborhoods into Aloha and Beaverton high schools’ boundaries and include lower-income neighborhoods inside the boundaries for the newest high school in the South Cooper Mountain area.

“Our school district really has an opportunity to balance these schools right now,” by doing more such adjustments that might include sending more low-income students to Sunset, said Molly Kline of Outstanding Education.

The group cites studies that indicate lower-income students fare better in school when they are integrated with students from families with more resources rather than grouped into schools that serve predominantly poor neighborhoods.

Sunset High, for example, had been a model in terms of achieving academic success for students regardless of their socio-economic background when it had 28 percent of students qualifying for subsidized meals. But under the current boundary proposal, it will have about half as many students who fit that demographic, members of Outstanding Education said.

The challenge, however, is that making large shifts to better balance schools by income might result in even more students attending more distant campuses, because many of the district’s wealthier neighborhoods are concentrated in the northern and southern ends of the BSD while a majority of lower-income students live in central Beaverton and Aloha.

The differing priorities of these two groups illustrate how the multiple goals behind setting new attendance boundaries have often conflicted with each other.

Rose accepted the committee’s boundary recommendation after the April 18 date on the attorney’s letter, leaving it to the board to decide simply whether procedures were followed in reaching the conclusion.

Board members will take up that discussion at their May 16 meeting, scheduled to be Rose’s final regular business meeting before he takes the helm of a larger district in suburban Atlanta.

The Sensible Boundaries parents organized early and have been vocal critics of plans since the first drafts of the map were released last fall.

Core members of that group live near West Tualatin View Elementary north of Sunset Highway; the current proposal would send high-schoolers from that area south to Beaverton High instead of to Sunset High to their west. They have cited travel safety and distance, community unity and other concerns with the proposal.

Sensible Boundaries also has found like-minded parents from the Waterhouse neighborhood and the Fir Grove Elementary School area who also want their children to attend the closest high schools, Cowart said.

On the flip side, Outstanding Education members including Kline and Anita Ott-Hendrickson have noted that some students in the district have always had longer trips to school.

For instance, students from several lower-income areas just north of Beaverton High School have long attended Sunset High, but after the new boundaries take effect, most will go to Beaverton while many of the remaining Sunset students come from newer and wealthier neighborhoods around Cedar Mill, which they consider a greater problem than longer bus rides.

“When we’re dividing by wealth, that’s not good,” Ott-Hendrickson said. “Beaverton had a great opportunity to improve all schools with equity.”

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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