Opinion

Tough calls in school boundary decision

You can’t please all the people, all the time. Nowhere is that more true than an elementary school boundary revision.

The latest go-round in the Snoqualmie Valley School District drew fire last week from parents questioning how the Elementary Bound-ary Revision Committee came up with its final recommendation. As approved by the board, the final boundaries move about 400 children from one Valley school to another, most from North Bend but also more than a hundred from Snoqualmie Ridge.

The final option was chosen, in part, because it moves a minimal number of children and uses buildings efficiently.

But the new boundaries had some Ridge parents calling foul last week, asking how neighborhoods that appeared to be geographically further from the Ridge’s sole elementary school were able to keep their children attending school there, while their youths had to be bused across town.

While the district defended its decision and the process, all it takes is a glance at a map of Snoqualmie Ridge to understand where these frustrated parents are coming from. There is no appeal — the Valley Record was told that the school board is the final arbiter in these matters.

The elementary redistricting process always touches someone’s raw nerve. Past revisions were no less divisive. Lengthy public hearings were emotional affairs, with parents directly asking the board to consider their needs. Earlier this month, the district attempted to deflect some of that emotional reaction by insisting that parent concerns be written down and read by the committee facilitator instead of a parent with a stake or a soon-to-be-displaced child.

I can understand the desire to minimize the emotional nature of the proceedings. It’s hard for committee members to make an informed decision benefiting everyone if they are swayed by passionate pleas.

That said, emotion remains. An enforced school move is a very tough pill for families to swallow. Long bus and car trips grab precious resources. In recent years, one group of Lower Valley residents asked to opt out of the school district because of the travel time involved in attending school here.

Since affected parents can and do question the process, the decision not to allow direct comments to the committee rankles a bit. One of the constants in small-town governance is the public hearing. Don’t like a given policy? Go to the public hearing and have your say. Only in this case, “having your say” means having someone else read it. It’s a novel departure, and a double-edged sword in a district where board candidates push for transparency.

This is not the last elementary boundary adjustment that Valley parents will have to endure. The big picture here is that far more elementary-age children live on Snoqualmie Ridge than the Ridge’s single elementary school can house. Until the school district can get the bond votes to build a new school on the Ridge, hundreds of children must go to school elsewhere. Other factors include how the local student population will change with time, how North Bend growth will affect local schools, and how construction of a new middle school on the Ridge will change patterns for older students. Solutions to the problem of busing won’t be simple, and we won’t have a perfect situation anytime soon.

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