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School boundaries seem just fine for now

On March 17, members of the Hillsboro School Board engaged in a heated exchange after school board member Glenn Miller presented a detailed request that the board consider redrawing the school district’s boundaries. Miller’s proposal called for a parcel in South Cooper Mountain — currently within the Hillsboro School District — to be shifted into the Beaverton School District. In exchange, a parcel of land of similar size in South Hillsboro, which is now in the Beaverton School District, would be moved into Hillsboro's district.

There’s no problem with school board members looking ahead to see if it might make sense in the long run to alter existing boundaries. However, it is inappropriate for a member or members of the Hillsboro School Board to meet with Beaverton School Board members on their own — without informing the rest of the board members — and subsequently draw up a lengthy plan suggesting alterations to the boundaries.

Last year, Miller and fellow school board member Monte Akers met with Washington County Chairman Andy Duyck and Ed Bartholemy — a private landowner and longtime proponent of redrawing the boundaries in order to move his property into the Beaverton School District. Miller followed that up last November by discussing the concept with some members of the Beaverton School Board.

Meeting in private without informing the rest of the board creates the appearance of secrecy. School board members should not freelance on issues that are directly under the school board’s purview.

Miller did inform the Hillsboro School District’s Long Range Planning Committee he was going to meet with Bartholemy, so it appears he was acting in good faith. However, on March 17, Miller said “nobody ever raised an objection to my going.” That’s disingenuous if his fellow board members weren’t aware he was going in the first place.

Board chairwoman Kim Strelchun said Miller’s actions put her in an awkward position.

“I have heard from Beaverton School Board members,” Strelchun said. “In those conversations, I have felt like they know far more than I know, and as a board chair that was a little embarrassing.”

That's an understandable reaction.

Hillsboro School Board members Adriana Cañas and Janeen Sollman were dismayed with Miller’s actions. Sollman expressed grave concern about the way the boundary proposal was handled, saying Miller acted with a “blatant disregard for process.” She even contacted the Oregon Government Ethics Commission to see if there was an ethics violation (there wasn’t, unless Miller stands to gain financially if the boundaries change).

If there is a reason to redraw school district boundaries, area residents need to be included early in the discussion process. There needs to be a public hearing about pros and cons on redrawing the districts — not private conversations that lead to a plan.

This issue goes back a few years, and even the Oregon Legislature has been involved. In 2013, state Sen. Mark Hass (D-Beaverton) sponsored Senate Bill 600, which directed the Beaverton and Hillsboro school districts to “enter into mediation … to resolve any disputes about boundaries.”

The bill was passed by the Legislature in July 2013, yet the subsequent mediation process found no evidence of any dispute. The final “Mediation Report” from Cable Huston, a Portland-based law firm, stated there was no compelling reason to change the boundaries. On Nov. 8, 2013, Clark I. Balfour, the official mediator, wrote the following: “It appears there are no disputes between the districts along their lengthy boundary. Each district recognizes that with any boundary there always will be some areas that are more challenging to serve than others, but the current boundary is manageable as it currently exists.”

Balfour's report went on to explain: “The districts recognize that outside events have created pressure, culminating in Senate Bill 600, to discuss adjustment of the boundary in the South Cooper Mountain Annexation Area (SCMAA).”

Landowner Ed Bartholemy was identified as a key proponent of having the school districts alter their boundaries so his land could be shifted into the Beaverton School District: “He plans to develop homes on this land and has made unsuccessful efforts to adjust the boundary so that the entire SCMAA is included in the Beaverton School District boundary,” Balfour wrote in the report.

Two major neighborhoods — South Hillsboro and South Cooper Mountain — are in the planning stages. Maybe in a couple years, if and when new schools are built, it might make sense to move some kids to different districts so they can go to the nearest schools.

Right now, there is no evidence of any objections to the current boundaries from either school district, and we wonder: Why is a controversy being created where there seems to be none?

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