By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
What’s the rush?
That was just one of many questions asked in a short but contentious meeting last night at the EC Hughes school building in Sunrise Heights.
The meeting itself was an afterthought for Seattle Public Schools. When SPS went around the city earlier this month for three meetings on a package of relatively small boundary changes for its attendance-area (aka “neighborhood”) school maps, the package didn’t address the fact that SPS was planning to move Roxhill Elementary into the Hughes building, after expansion and renovation.
First official word of that came when we asked the district on September 30th what the plan was for recently vacated-by-former-tenant EC Hughes, resulting in this WSB story.
But in the following week, when the aforementioned three meetings were held, there was nothing in the presentation about Roxhill/Hughes. And though the boundary changes that were discussed at those meetings were in south West Seattle, the local meeting was held in the north, at Schmitz Park Elementary.
Then, after at least one Roxhill parent pushed for more information about the changes that moving the school to Hughes would bring, the boundary-change map changed again, and last night’s meeting was added. The SPS website notes that the information about Roxhill and Hughes was added October 13th – less than a week before that meeting.
But the biggest changes now proposed for the “Growth Boundaries” map – originally approved by the School Board two years ago, and with this and other amendments going to the board tomorrow night – would affect a third school:
Though Hughes is not expected to reopen before fall of 2018 – and that assumes, among other things, the district’s BTA IV Levy is passed by voters next February – two pieces of “attendance area” would be moved into Roxhill’s zone next fall, two years ahead of time. Both would come out of West Seattle Elementary’s zone.
And that drew protest from some at last night’s meeting.
One reason: If outreach had been done to get information about the meeting to West Seattle Elementary’s sizable immigrant community, there was no sign of it at the meeting. Translators were booked and present; no one asked for them.
The SPS staffer who presided at the meeting, associate superintendent Flip Herndon, ran through this slide deck:
He said that what’s shown as Area 53 was going to go into Arbor Heights – until they realized that EC Hughes could “come back as a serviceable building for Seattle Public Schools,” so now, as of next year, it will move into Roxhill’s zone. Area 55 was going to go into Roxhill anyway, Herndon said.
Herndon said the changes would lead to grandfathering of about 77 students in various areas, meaning they could stay at their current school through its highest grade. But that’s no guarantee they will, since, as he mentioned, “grandfathered” students are not eligible for transportation services.
Lumped in with the boundary changes was information about changes to the Student Assignment Plan, since that was also what was addressed in the first three meetings. Herndon said it will be a “single, standardized document” for next school year and beyond. Also, it includes “some changes in service models” since the previous one was adopted. And it eliminates the “distance tiebreaker” for people trying to get into non-neighborhood schools. Plus waitlists will be dissolved before school starts, which he described as a “key piece.” Right now they exist until the end of September. No more.
That drew some questions. Would it prevent the problem that plagued schools this year, with staff being pulled and moved after late enrollment changes? Not necessarily, warned Herndon – you still might get families who don’t show up. He tried to explain the “variables” that affected this year. They’ll look at which schools have late-enrollment trends, “to decide how much of a buffer to build into each school.” What about the funding for smaller class sizes? he was asked. “The (state is) starting to chip away at that.” After he said K-1 should be 20 or 21, an attendee said she doesn’t know of any classes “anywhere near that number.”
Shortly thereafter, concerns were voiced, intensely. A West Seattle Elementary staffer said it didn’t seem that equity was being taken into consideration: “I have serious concerns about how this affects our community – this looks like gerrymandering – I’m concerned about (the smaller attendance area leading to) the loss of staff, the loss of the ability to write grants; they said the (most recent) boundary change won’t make the numbers go down, but it did, but I’m concerned that this will (cost even more) – The board should freeze this decision and look at it through the lens of equity. The people at WSE don’t have a voice. … It’s very disturbing to me to watch that happen. What essentially happened this year is the kids living on Delridge lost their busing, they chose to come back to WS. And now they’re going to have to go to Madison (Middle School) instead of stick with the kids they know and go to Denny (International Middle School) … We’re making a huge difference. We have the numbers that shows what we are doing is working. And it disturbs me that this is not being taken into consideration.”
Herndon said, “I can appreciate that … There are a couple things we can look at with equity, a few we can’t.” He contended that there would be a statistically insignificant effect on the free/reduced lunch and English Language Learner populations, but: “We are strictly prohibited from factoring race into decisions like this. We lost that fight at the state level.”
A Roxhill parent countered that the maps and moves seem clearly based on race and economics, pointing as well to the already-odd-looking boundaries for Roxhill, whose attendance area doesn’t even stretch to the west side of 30th SW across from the school entrance. And she voiced concern for WSES, describing it as a “special school,” and wondering how much the district has spoken with its administration “about how this is going to affect them.”
Herndon said he had not personally “gone there.” But he insisted that the proposed changes were intended to work with “enrollment trends we’re looking at for the future, the next six or seven years.”
Was the only option to close Roxhill and expand/reopen Hughes? he was asked, with attendees pointing out that the former Denny IMS site at 30th/Thistle has long been considered a possible “future elementary” site. Or, what about rebuilding Roxhill? (Here too, the discrimination allegations flew, with attendees pointing out that wealthier western West Seattle was getting all-new schools in Arbor Heights and on Genesee Hill, while to the east, Roxhill’s new school would at this point be a fixed-up early-20th-century building. There might be a better use for Hughes as a “central” location, someone else suggested. Yet another voice wondered aloud where the children were coming from to fill extra space with which Arbor Heights will open its new building next year.
Herndon said “enrollment trends” show it will balance out.
Then, it was asked, where will everyone go to middle school, with Denny and Madison filling up. Will there be a new middle school?
Herndon said there’s no “capital planning” for that – and that they wouldn’t be building a new middle school on the old Denny site, a stone’s throw from the new one – but they have options such as “what to do with the Schmitz Park site once Genesee Hill opens” (next fall) and he pointed out the space that’ll be left in the Boren Building after AH no longer needs to be there on an interim basis. Would other schools be moved around? “Almost anything’s possible,” Herndon acknowledged.
Back to the movement of current WSES attendees to Roxhill starting next year, the plea was repeated: Doing it next year, two years before the Hughes move, “doesn’t make sense … there’s no reason to disturb these kids right now” – Roxhill has room for them – “but … there’s more than capacity issues, there are community issues.”
Herndon promised to “take your input back” to district HQ, but warned that it would not be reflected in writing when the “Growth Boundaries” changes go to the board tomorrow, since the documents are already posted to the district website. But, he said, between “introduction” tomorrow and a vote two weeks later, it could be written in.
The e-mail address for feedback, meantime, are these: