MOUNT VERNON — With the opening of Harriet Rowley Elementary School and the impending closure of Lincoln Elementary School, the Mount Vernon School District is looking for input on where to draw its new school boundaries.
After more than a year of discussions and public meetings, a 20-person committee comprised of staff, parents and community members has narrowed the new school boundaries proposals to two. Each proposal would change how students are assigned throughout most of the district’s elementary schools.
“There were going to have to be adjustments made,” said Spencer Welch, an educational consultant hired by the district to help facilitate the boundary adjustment process.
The district is in the midst of a $106 million, five-part construction project which, at the end of its first two phases, will result in significant changes to the district’s elementary school landscape.
In September, the district celebrated the opening of 550-student Harriet Rowley Elementary School — the first new school to open in the district in 20 years.
This year, the building is the home of about 525 Madison Elementary School students. Next year, when those students move back to their newly reconstructed Madison Elementary, Harriet Rowley Elementary will become the permanent home of a new group of students.
With two new schools, the district plans to discontinue student use of Lincoln Elementary School — the district’s oldest and smallest school.
The question then becomes where to put that school’s 365 students.
The answer, however, isn’t as simple as just assigning them to the next closest school, school officials say.
A 400-respondent survey conducted by the district’s boundary committee last year identified three areas the district needed to focus on when considering new school boundaries: safety, efficiency and equity.
When it comes to safety, the district plans to take into account bus stops, and walking and biking routes. The district does not intend to do anything that would make a child’s route to school less safe, Welch said.
“There’s a transportation cost too — that it pushes more students out of the walk zone,” Assistant Superintendent Bill Nutting said. “But the committee felt like that expense is worthwhile if it can be done in some safe manners and it benefits the equity part of the equation, while it reduces some efficiency.”
For efficiency, the district wants to make sure the bus routes are as economical as possible when it comes to fuel costs.
The district is also striving to make sure that each of its elementary schools reflect the racial and socioeconomic status of the district as a whole.
According to the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the district is about 54.9 percent Hispanic/Latino and about 60 percent low income.
“The makeup of any particular school, in my judgment, should reflect the makeup of our entire community,” Nutting said. “We want to try to create schools that reflect that and don’t overemphasize or underemphasize any part of our community.”
Under both proposals, Washington Elementary’s attendance area will now include everything west of Interstate 5.
Because Madison Elementary is a dual-language school and accepts students from throughout the district, it no longer needs designated boundaries.
Under the proposals, students in that area will go to the district’s other four elementary schools: Jefferson, Harriet Rowley, Little Mountain and Centennial.
Now the district must determine the new boundaries for those four schools.
At a Monday meeting, parents and community members shared concerns about both of the proposed boundary plans.
Some parents are concerned that the district is trying to exclude Latino students, particularly students in the Kulshan Creek and Stanford Drive neighborhoods, from the new Harriet Rowley Elementary
That isn’t the case, Nutting said, citing the district’s work to create demographic equity throughout the district.
“The reason (the boundaries are) cut that way is to try and create a student demographic balance for Rowley, but it also contributes to maintaining balance in the other schools as well,” he said.
Another factor to consider is capacity, district officials said. In redrawing the boundaries, the district is attempting to avoid overcrowding any of its schools.
Both of the proposals would put each elementary school under capacity, including Little Mountain Elementary School, which is currently about 100 students over capacity.
“All of them except Washington are built to handle between 500 and 550 students,” Nutting said. “When they go over that threshold, that puts some stress on a number of features of the school.”
While the district has narrowed down the proposals to two, it is still considering feedback that could change that, Superintendent Carl Bruner said.
“This isn’t something that needs to be rushed,” Nutting said. “It’s something that needs to be done wisely and thoughtfully and in ways that give us opportunities to continue to engage people in this discussion.”
In either proposal, Centennial, Harriet Rowley and Madison elementary students would attend LaVenture Middle School — the district’s dual-language middle school — and Jefferson, Little Mountain and Washington elementary students would attend Mount Baker Middle School.
Students who have already started at one of the middle schools will finish at that middle school, Nutting said.
Those who want to weigh in on the proposals can visit the district’s website at mountvernonschools.org.