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North Bend officials consider legal options with school district

NORTH BEND - Some North Bend City Council members remain upset after the Snoqualmie Valley School District went ahead with plans to redraw school attendance boundaries for its elementary schools.

Under the new plan, 490 students will be shuffled to different schools this fall, including 145 students from North Bend who will go to Snoqualmie Elementary School. That proposed plan was debated for a couple of months before being approved Jan. 27.

On Feb. 17 the city sent the district an e-mail asking it to go into a tolling agreement with North Bend that would extend the deadline for parties to file legal action against the district until April 25.

"I hope that you will agree to sign this Tolling Agreement in order to preserve that status quo, and avoid the possibility that one or more lawsuits will be filed against the District before the end of next week [Feb. 25]," the message said.

District superintendent Rich McCullough said the district refused to sign the agreement since the city of North Bend has no jurisdiction over where the district draws its school boundaries.

McCullough said school boundary changes are always disputed, and mentioned Lake Washington and Issaquah as examples of school districts that have faced challenges from city councils following boundary changes. One year ago, the district fielded similar complaints from parents in Snoqualmie when it was learned that children from part of the city would be bussed to Chief Kanim Middle School in Fall City, as opposed to the in-town Snoqualmie Middle School. He said the only time people will not argue a boundary change is when their child will go to a brand-new facility.

He said the district heard and understood the city's concerns regarding the boundary change but said it didn't trump the scientific work that went into drawing the new boundary lines, which included mixing different demographics into the student body.

The Feb. 25 deadline came and went with no legal action.

Councilman Bill Wittress, who has a child that will be affected by the school boundary change, said there may still be an opportunity for North Bend to dispute the boundary change. Wittress said that as more information comes to light regarding the decision, some problems may surface that could make the case for an appeal.

Wittress said he has nothing against the school district and can sympathize with public bodies making unpopular decisions. He said in this case, however, politics overrode the interests of the children of North Bend.

"I don't think this decision was made in the best interest of the children," he said.

Councilwoman Karen Tavenner, who also has a child that will be moved under the new plan, said she would have liked to have seen the district hold off on the decision for another year since so many aspects of the district are going to change. McCullough will be leaving, as will North Bend Elementary School Principal Dick Giger. The new elementary school in Snoqualmie, Cascade View, will be opening in the fall and will need to be staffed. With so many things up in the air, she said it would have been wise to make the decision once the district's situation was more settled.

She hopes she and other parents can persuade the district to help them keep some vestiges of their current school, even if its the same bus driver.

"I don't think that [keeping the bus driver] could be that big of a deal," she said.

She said she can deal with moving children to a different school, but not if they are just going to be moved around again in a couple of years. She said all indications point to the district doing just that and she doesn't look forward to her children being part of a short-term solution.

"That [if and when children need to be moved again] is when it will make me mad," Tavenner said.

Editor Ben Cape can be reached at (425) 888-2311 or by e-mail at ben.cape@valleyrecord.com.

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