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School boundary change raises ire of residents

SNOQUALMIE VALLEY - Some residents of Snoqualmie are imploring the Snoqualmie Valley School District to reconsider a proposed boundary change that would send children from the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood to Chief Kanim Middle School (CKMS) in Fall City.

With the proposed new boundaries, all sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood would go to CKMS (as opposed to Snoqualmie Middle School in Snoqualmie) at the beginning of the 2004-2005 school year.

The changes, which were first discussed at the Feb. 26 meeting of the district's board of directors, are set to be voted on at the board's April 8 meeting.

District assistant superintendent Scott Poirier said the decision to move the school's boundaries was based on the simple fact that there are too many students at Snoqualmie Elementary School (SMS) and that CKMS has room to spare. Under current boundaries, which have all Snoqualmie students going to SMS, projected enrollment at that school for the 2004-2005 school year is 607. The capacity of the school is 540. Poirier said overcrowding at a school is a detriment to every part of the educational experience, from lack of classroom space to strain on commons areas and bathrooms.

"It affects the way we educate the children," Poirier said.

The projected enrollment at CKMS for the 2004-2005 school year, however, is 496. Moreover, the school is bigger, with a 650-student capacity. With the way the district is laid out as a long, narrow corridor that stretches from the Lower Valley to Snoqualmie Pass, moving a chunk of students to CKMS made the most sense.

Middle-school children south of Interstate 90 would continue to go to CKMS, where they have gone since the school first opened in 1991. A bulk of those students come from the Wilderness Rim neighborhood southeast of North Bend.

Even if the school boundary is changed, SMS will still be brimming with children this year with 548 students enrolled in the 540-capacity school.

The district also has taken into account how the boundary change would affect the demographics of the schools, Poirier said, especially the percentage of free- and reduced-lunch students. Poirier said the boundary change would not abnormally alter either of CKMS's or SMS's percentage of those students, therefore neither school will have a significant change in the number of low-income students attending.

Poirier said it may seem as though the district is trying to force this change through since it is only presenting one option, but there is nothing else the district could do to balance out the enrollments.

Some Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood residents have said, however, that is exactly what the school district is doing. Parents have approached district officials since the announcement saying they have been left out of the decision-making process and that the district should wait a year to get more input before voting on the change.

Carolyn Simpson, a Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood resident, has helped gather together other parents unhappy with the proposed boundary change. Simpson said her family, and numerous other families of the Snoqualmie Ridge neighborhood, bought their homes with the idea of sending their children to schools in Snoqualmie.

If there had been doubts about her children going to SMS, Simpson said she would have reconsidered voting for the bond last May. All of the driving they would have to do, especially up and down the Falls hill on State Route 202, would just be too much, according to some parents.

"I am considering just home schooling my kids," said Samantha Van Nyhuis, a Ridge resident.

The parents said they realize children from North Bend have been bused to Chief Kanim for years, but that was something those parents knew before they moved in. While they have no reservations about Fall City being a good community with a great school, the concerned Snoqualmie Ridge parents were disappointed their hopes of sending their children to a school in town might be nixed.

"We love Snoqualmie," said Ridge resident Jan Calvert.

District Superintendent Rich McCullough said the public will not be left out of the process. He said the process began with the announcement at the school board and that the next month will give the public plenty of opportunities to comment and make suggestions.

McCullough said some of the initial changes proposed by opponents of the boundary change, which ranged from adding portables to the SMS property to turning Mount Si High School into a middle school, don't make sense in light of the fact the district has room for all of its children. The district can't fast-track any other schools to completion when it has facilities to handle the students it has.

"It is not good public policy to build a school until the need is there," McCullough said.

Poirier said the district has already made a change to the initial plan. Students presently have an older sibling going to SMS will go to that school as well.

"We saw no point in making parents go to two open houses, two concerts, [etc.]," Poirier said.

No boundaries are definite and could change again. The district plans to review its elementary school boundaries next year and a new middle school is set to open east of North Bend in 2007 or 2008, which could change the boundaries in North Bend. If approved, the Snoqualmie Ridge Phase II development could add thousands of new residents to the district. If and when the building moratorium is lifted in North Bend, the number of students there could increase with more housing. Poirier said the district tries to predict how many children will be living in new developments and where all of them will go to school. He also said the district tries to keep school boundaries as static as it can to prevent children from moving around too much.

"In some districts, a child will change schools four times just in elementary grades," Poirier said. "We don't want to do that."

The school district will host a series of public meetings this month to get more input on its proposal and to educate parents about its effect. The concerned parents from Snoqualmie plan to be involved in the process.

"We just want them to think outside the box," Calvert said.

The Snoqualmie Valley School District will be hosting the following meetings to present, review and discuss the proposed middle-school boundary changes:

* 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 17, at Mount Si High School, 8651 Meadowbrook Way S.E., Snoqualmie

* 7-7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 18, at Snoqualmie Elementary School, 39801 S.E. Park St., Snoqualmie

* 6:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 23, at Chief Kanim Middle School, 32627 Redmond-Fall City Road, Fall City

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