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School board revs up boundary change discussion

A new year means yet another crop of changes are on the horizon for Portland Public School families.

It's not the high schools this time - that new framework is in place, which means the focus is back on the elementary, middle and K-8 schools.

The Portland School Board will vote this month on a handful of attendance boundary and school configuration changes that would address the too-crowded/too-empty dilemma at four schools in Northeast and Northwest Portland.

While it's just those few schools for now, the changes will have ripple effects in neighboring schools, and similar changes could come in the future because a full third of PPS elementary, middle and K-8 schools are either above capacity or below program targets, according to district officials.

Specifically, the board will vote on ending guaranteed bus transportation for Skyline (Northwest) and Sabin (Northeast) K-8 school students who want to attend West Sylvan and Beaumont Middle Schools, respectively. That would help fill capacity in the under-enrolled Skyline and Sabin buildings.

The overcrowded Rigler K-8 School (Northeast) would convert back to an elementary and older students would attend Beaumont Middle School (Northeast). And Alameda Elementary (Northeast) would reduce its western boundary to relieve overcrowding, routing some families to nearby Sabin and Irvington (Northeast) K-8.

The school board will take public input Jan. 9 on the proposals, after an extensive and at times controversial public planning process last year. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. in the Board Auditorium, 501 N. Dixon St. Superintendent Carole Smith forwarded her recommendations to the board in mid-December.

After Monday's public hearing, the school board is set to vote on the proposals Jan. 23, and the changes would begin this fall.

As proposed:

• Alameda would send students on the western edge of their boundary to Irvington and Sabin. Alameda will keep all enrolled students and guarantee space for their siblings; kindergarteners and new students will be assigned to their neighborhood schools.

• Rigler would convert to a K-5 school and send its current 5th and 6th graders to Beaumont Middle School, including students in their Spanish Immersion program. The school, which has had neighborhood growth and high interest in its Spanish immersion program - was slated for a full rebuild under the proposed PPS construction bond measure; when the bond didn't pass, district leaders began work on a plan.

During public feedback sessions, Rigler parents 'overwhelmingly supported Beaumont as the location for their middle-grade students, citing proximity, program variety and the equalizing factor of all students being new at 6th grade in a middle school,' district leaders found.

• Sabin would convert to a K-8 school, which will affect the 22 Sabin students on average per year who attend Beaumont for middle school. During the past five years, the district had provided bus transportation for those students; that will now end.

• Skyline would convert to a K-8 school, which will affect the average of 38 Skyline students per year who attend West Sylvan Middle School. Their guaranteed bus service will also end, which will save PPS about $495,000 per year, 85 percent of which went to the Skyline buses.

• As Sabin's building fills up, there will be less room for the ACCESS program for highly gifted students, which occupies the building and has been looking for a new space to expand. Smith's recommendation calls for a timeline and location plan for ACCESS to expand.

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