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Beaverton School District zeroing in on attendance boundary changes

Attendance areas, land swaps and longer-range plans all in the works.

FILE PHOTO - Site preparation work at the Beaverton School District's next high school is already underway at South Cooper Mountain. The school will trigger internal boundary changes at the high school level and also sits immediately adjacent to land in the Hillsboro School District being considered for a swap.The Beaverton School District is piecing together a massive puzzle of who goes where.

District officials are simultaneously juggling multiple planning projects that will determine which schools children will attend, and those efforts will change attendance maps over the coming:

Months … as the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts consider swapping land in the South Cooper Mountain and South Hillsboro areas of their districts so all students in the future communities live within the same districts. The boards of both districts hope to make a decision by December.

Years … as officials work to draw new internal attendance boundaries needed to handle growth and fill new school buildings, starting with high school attendance areas that will be settled by spring before moving on to elementary and middle school boundary decisions in the coming years.

Decades … as the district embarks on developing a new long-range plan looking 50 years into the future to get a better handle on where students of coming generations will live and where the district ought to buy large land parcels for future schools before developers fill them all with homes and shopping centers.

Those planning efforts came into sharper focus Monday as district administrators updated the Beaverton School Board, which hadn’t met for nearly two months during the summer break, while BSD staff worked behind the scenes.

Planning for new students is a constant challenge in the growing district, with enrollment expected to increase by more than 500 students for the school year that begins on Tuesday. The estimated enrollment for the upcoming 2015-16 school year is 40,469, keeping Beaverton as the third-largest school district in Oregon behind only Portland and Salem.

Proposed land swap

The board Monday approved a process aimed at changing boundaries between the Beaverton and Hillsboro districts, possibly before the end of 2015. The Hillsboro board, which initiated the land swap discussion, already adopted a similar process this summer.

Beaverton board members added conditions, such as increasing public participation, especially for residents of the affected areas in South Cooper Mountain and South Hillsboro.

There are 244 acres in the South Cooper Mountain area directly west of Beaverton’s next high school that are currently part of the Hillsboro School District, but only one school-aged child currently lives there.

Meanwhile, there are about two dozen school-aged children living on 189 acres in the section of the South Hillsboro area that is currently inside the Beaverton School District. This acreage is located northwest of the intersection of Southwest 209th Avenue and Farmington Road.

The part of South Cooper Mountain being considered for a swap into the Beaverton district is expected to eventually be home to an estimated 756 students. That compares to 611 students projected for the proposed swap area of South Hillsboro after the build-out there.

In terms of school funding, the land in South Cooper Mountain area would generate roughly $1 million more per year than its counterpart in South Hillsboro because state funding is tied directly to student population.

The Beaverton district is pressed for time on the land swap in large part because it also needs to change its existing school attendance boundaries. The clock is ticking because its sixth comprehensive high is on track to open in 2017 and district officials need to know whether to plan for students in the two new communities.

Internal attendance boundaries

Beaverton administrators updated board members on this process, which is now taking shape as a three-pronged approach that first will focus on setting high school attendance boundaries by spring 2016, more than a year before the new high school is ready for students.

With the high school boundaries in hand, district officials next spring or fall would then begin the process of redrawing elementary school attendance areas where needed. The district is building a new elementary school in the North Bethany area and also planning to buy another future elementary school site.

Besides keeping enrollments in line with school buildings, another goal with that process will be to try to eliminate school attendance boundaries that send outgoing sixth-graders to different middle and high schools.

Officials may save the redrawing of middle school boundaries for a few years.

The district’s newest middle school, also serving the fast-growing neighborhoods north of the Sunset Highway, will be finished by next year but first will house students of three elementary schools and the Arts & Communication Magnet Academy while those aging campuses are rebuilt one year at a time. It will finally become a traditional middle school in September of 2020, when student populations might have already shifted.

Superintendent Jeff Rose said their expert consultant recommended taking on the high school boundaries separately to make the process less confusing. Regardless, changes to school attendance areas are often controversial with parents.

“We do know that it’s going to be challenging and emotional,” Rose said, adding there’s no way around it with the pending construction of new schools designed to handle the district’s growing student body. “It’s not something we can choose not to happen.”

The boundary-setting process will include input from an advisory committee made up of parents and principals that will begin meeting in October and make a recommendation to Rose by next March. Rose is likely to adopt the high school attendance map before next summer.

“It’s hard to say how long exactly that will take,” Deputy Superintendent Ron Porterfield said.

Long-range planning

Dick Steinbrugge, executive administrator for facilities, said the district is taking steps to ensure it will be able to serve students a half century into the future, even though parcels large enough for schools may disappear from the district years before those schools need to be built.

The district is teaming up with local and regional government officials, and hiring experts, along with making some crystal ball projections, to try to determine where and when growing enrollments will require more schools. The process also will identify strategies to bank lands for future use.

“There just isn’t much (suitable) property left in the Beaverton School District,” Steinbrugge said, adding, however, that new students are “going to live somewhere, and we’re running out of space.”