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MLSD seeks to make best use of schools in redrawing boundaries

by Charles H. Featherstone
Staff Writer | February 13, 2020 11:28 PM

MOSES LAKE — Superintendent Josh Meek said the key to making any redrawing of the Moses Lake School District’s elementary school attendance boundaries work is “making the best use of our elementary schools.”

Meek, speaking at a regular meeting of the Moses Lake School Board on Thursday, said the plan for redrawing boundaries beginning in fall 2021 — when the new Groff Elementary, the district’s 11th, is expected to open — will help the district address what are currently “some pretty significant imbalances” in how many kids attend which elementary schools.

Meek was formally unveiling a proposal to the school board that would tighten up district boundaries and dedicate elementary schools as “feeder schools” for each of the district’s three middle schools to deal with overcrowding at five of the district’s 10 elementary schools.

“Tonight is the initial work session,” Meek told school board members.

With the addition of an 11th elementary school, district boundaries will shift significantly, with most elementary schools seeing a reduction in the number of students attending but North Elementary receiving 69 new students.

The proposed reorganization shifts district boundaries considerably and estimates all of the district’s elementary schools at between 87 and 92 percent of capacity. Currently, five schools — Garden Heights, Lakeview Terrace, Park Orchard, Peninsula and Sage Point — are operating at more than 100 percent of capacity, largely because of the use of “portable” classrooms, Meek said.

While the district took ease of transportation into consideration for the new attendance boundaries, Meek said MLSD administrators still need “more intense time” to work with district’s transportation managers as well as give parents and staff time to review maps and give input.

Two of the proposed attendance areas — North and Knolls Vista — contain two disconnected areas, in large part because the city’s and county’s road networks actually make it easier to bus kids to a slightly farther away school, Meek said.

And in at least one instance, the boundary between the Park Orchard and Knolls Vista attendance areas goes right down the middle of the street, meaning kids on opposite sides of the same street will attend different elementary schools.

“That has to happen somewhere,” Meek said, noting the division mostly follows “natural traffic patterns.”

While the placement of Groff Elementary on a patch of undeveloped land south of Nelson Road and east of SR-17 was designed to alleviate overcrowding at Lakeview and Garden Heights caused by significant single-family home construction in that part of the city, Meek said the new school will likely prompt more new housing in the area.

“There are 80 acres of undeveloped land around, and it will likely see new residential growth in the future,” Meek said.

Groff Elementary, named after former longtime school board member Vicki Groff, is the first of two planned new elementary schools as part of a $135 million school construction bond passed by voters in February 2017, but later contested in court. While no formal planning for the 12th elementary school has been done, Meek suggested there are three realistic sites for that school — west of Moses Lake, possibly in Mae Valley; near the Knolls Vista/Park Orchard area north of Moses Lake (because of continued development); and possibly south of I-90.

“An elementary school in Mae Valley makes sense,” said Board Member Bryce McPartland, noting that daily bus travel using the Westlake/Westshore exit off I-90 “is waiting for an accident to happen.”

However, Board President Elliott Goodrich said a new south or west side elementary school would put significant pressure on all three elementary schools on the peninsula — Midway, Peninsula and Sage Point — given the loss of significant numbers of students currently bused across the lake and a needed readjustment of the boundaries.

“That means we will close Midway,” Goodrich said. “That’s the implication.”

Peninsula Elementary is currently the district’s largest elementary school, with 503 students, while Midway is the smallest with 254, Meek said.

However, the current plan focusing on the 11th elementary school is still only being considered, and it will be some years before any decision is made regarding the district’s 12th elementary school.

“We will explore site options that put us in the best position to take advantage of growth patterns,” Meek explained.

Charles H. Featherstone can be reached at cfeatherstone@columbiabasinherald.com.