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Beaverton School Board slows boundary decision

Members ask staff to look again at issues of proximity, transportation and safety.

TIMES PHOTO: ERIC APALATEGUI - Robert Jones, backed by like-minded neighbors, explains to the Beaverton School Board why his Waterhouse area fits better into either the Westview or Sunset high school attendance areas instead of the more distant Aloha High, which is where their children would go if a current proposal is adopted. The board directed staff to take a closer look at issues including proximity to school.
The Beaverton School Board isn’t ready to sign off on a new high school boundary map that has troubled some local parents, most of them living in specific pockets within the larger district.

Board members on Monday night unanimously decided they want Superintendent Jeff Rose and his staff to justify — and potentially change — the current proposal.

Specifically, board members want a closer look at students now slated to move to more distant schools, with an eye toward whether the plan could better match their own primary priorities, namely proximity, transportation and safety.

“Maybe we should reconsider when we’ve asked students to travel to their third or fourth closest school,” said board member LeeAnn Larsen.

“When I look at the map, there are safety issues," fellow board member Linda Degman said.

Members of the audience felt that Chair Anne Bryan anticipated the delayed decision because she came to the meeting with detailed written comments explaining the board’s actions.

However, Bryan didn’t lay out a timeline for the decision during the meeting and acknowledged afterward that the process will push beyond Rose’s tenure with the district.

Rose becomes superintendent of a suburban Atlanta school district in about two weeks but pledged to help work through concerns with what he dubbed "Phase 3" of the boundary process until then. He said his work could include explanations of where the proposal should stand pat or areas that could use revision.

The board also is in the midst of finding Rose’s replacement and is tentatively expected to name an interim superintendent at a special meeting Thursday.

While still uncertain where the boundary re-examination will lead, several parents who have lobbied hard for changes were encouraged at the board’s measured response.

“For the first time since the start of this process, we’ve heard someone from the district say (safety is) a concern,” said Jason Cowart, talking about travel safety and proximity to schools.

Since last fall, those have been key issues for Cowart and a group of parents from the West Tualatin View Elementary School area as they've lobbied to allow their children to remain within nearby Sunset High School’s boundary rather than shift farther away to Beaverton High School.

“I’m pleasantly surprised,” agreed Robert Jones, who similarly has served as a spokesman for the Waterhouse neighborhood, which is currently slated to move into Aloha High School’s attendance boundary despite being far closer to both Westview and Sunset high schools.

The board unanimously adopted Rose’s recommendations for transitioning students to new schools after the new boundaries take effect in 2017, which is when the newest large high school will open in the South Cooper Mountain area.

The plan keeps students who will be juniors or seniors that year at the same campus and allows for other exceptions, including a provision allowing some younger siblings to join older brothers or sisters there. The district's existing administrative transfer process also might allow some students to choose a school outside the new boundaries.

The evening began on a light note as board members and the audience got close-up performances from some of the district’s most talented young singers and robot-makers around before diving into the boundary issue.

“This will be just as fun,” Bryan said with a deep breath and an unspoken nod to the larger reason the room was once again packed with parents.

One of the parents they heard from before their own discussion was Stacie Tew, whose family lives north of Sunset Highway.

“My child can walk to Sunset High School faster than she can take a bus to Beaverton High School,” Tew said.

Boundary changes always result in some unhappy families, and Beaverton’s process has seen more than 1,000 parents and other district residents submit comments and suggestions.

Parents from the West Tualatin View and Waterhouse neighborhoods showed up in force again Monday, but Jones noted afterward that it appeared their message already had been heard.

The majority of board members had met individually with concerned residents of several neighborhoods where much of the dissatisfaction has been voiced. They also met with another group more concerned with equity, because the current plan would result in student bodies that vary widely by family incomes.

However, Cowart's group, which calls itself Sensible Boundaries for Beaverton Schools, took it a step further than others by hiring an attorney and laying out a 33-page argument that say a boundary advisory committee and Rose put too much weight on student composition at the expense of the board's primary criteria in setting the current boundary proposal.

Their group also argued that the district's enrollment projections are in error and contended that Sunset High School's boundaries can expand without making the campus overcrowded.

By Eric Apalategui
Beaverton Reporter
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