Parents need to be involved early in school boundary talks

The concern by parents in Pasco and Richland over school boundaries during the past few months highlights a pattern that Kennewick school officials would be wise to address while they gather support for the proposed bond measure they want to put before voters next year.

It is a common scenario: Growth in one part of town warrants new school construction and voters agree to pay more taxes in order to alleviate the overcrowding. The schools are built and boundaries are changed. School officials look at the big picture and want diversity in schools throughout the district. Parents want their kids to go to the closest school with the neighbor kids.

Sometimes what the parents expect and what they get is not the same. And that’s when there is frustration and disappointment.

It is understandable school administrators are hesitant to draw boundary lines before a bond measure is approved by voters. If demographics change after construction, the lines likely would be re-drawn and that could cause a backlash. However, catching parents off guard after new schools have been built is not a good system, either.

In Pasco, for example, many parents are irritated their children can’t attend the school closest to their homes. It happens in all grades, but is most pronounced at the high school level where students who live on the far east end of Pasco are bused to Chiawana High, while students who live nearer to Chiawana are sent to Pasco High.

In Richland, a new elementary school under construction in South Richland should eliminate the need to bus students outside the area, which is a welcome improvement. However, students are going to be shifted throughout the district and many parents wonder how these changes will affect their family. School administrators have included parents in the discussion of boundary changes, but it is inevitable not everyone can be pleased. Already, a social media campaign started by parents near Jefferson Elementary School is an indication there is concern about how their children will be affected by new boundary lines.

In Kennewick, school officials have an opportunity to provide parents with as much information as possible as it tries to garner support for an $89.5 million bond measure that would pay for the rebuilding of Westgate Elementary School, two new elementary schools and two new middle schools. Part of the plan includes closing the present Desert Hills Middle School site, which will mean a significant change for families who live near that school.

School administrators are welcoming public input and will be holding meetings to discuss the bond measure. It is not easy balancing the demographic needs of an entire school district with the personal needs of individual families, but Kennewick should strive to figure out a way. Communication will be key and parents should get involved in the process early. Kennewick school officials have a chance to handle boundary changes in a way that shouldn’t come as a complete surprise to people, and they should take advantage of that.