Archive for Thursday, November 9, 2006

East-side residents pitch counter boundary proposal

November 9, 2006

Amy O'Brien is tired of having to make her children switch schools.

Her son Tristan who is now a fifth-grader at Clear Creek Elementary School, has switched schools three times during his elementary years even though his family has never moved. His sister Rhiannon has moved twice.

Now, with boundary proposals presented Monday by a patron committee to the De Soto USD 232 Board of Education, the family will again move to the De Soto district's newest elementary school.

"He has to make a whole new set of friends every time he moves," O'Brien said of her son. "We've stayed at one address this entire time. We're not a military family that chooses to move."

The O'Briens were part of an entire neighborhood that had switched boundaries three times. Tristan began in kindergarten at Clear Creek, then moved to Riverview Elementary School in first grade, and is now back at Clear Creek. As an older student, if Tristan is allowed to be "grandfathered" into the boundary proposal, he could end up at a different middle school than his younger sister. Families in the subdivisions of Mill Creek Meadows, Holliday Hills, Woodland Townhomes and Brittany Valley wore bright yellow T-shirts with "Families for CommUNITY Schools" on the front to Monday's board meeting and presented an alternate proposal that would keep their children at Clear Creek.

The board made no decisions regarding boundaries for the new Mill Creek Middle School or the yet unnamed elementary school at 71st and Chouteau in Shawnee. Board members will look at the various proposals and hear from community members again at its Nov. 16 meeting.

"If you have questions, leave this meeting knowing that we have open ears," board president Don Clark said. "There's never the perfect right answer. But there's the best answer, and that's what we are going to try and achieve."

Jeff Hopkins and Tammy Endres, members of the patron committee who worked with the district to formulate the boundary proposals, summed up the official proposal.

For the new elementary school, students would come from a small Shawnee portion of Mize Elementary School and much of the Clear Creek area. For the new middle school, students would come from the new elementary school, Mize and Riverview Elementary School. Starside Elementary School boundaries would remain unchanged, and all students would attend Lexington Trails Middle School and De Soto High School.

Mize would still be split as it is today between Mill Valley High School and DHS. The split on Cedar Niles Road would send Mize children on the west side to Lexington Trails and DHS and children on the east side to Mill Creek and Mill Valley. The high school boundaries would remain unchanged.

Members of the CommUNITY group said they were mostly concerned with their neighborhood, so their proposal differed in that children from their subdivisions would stay at Clear Creek instead of switching schools again. They showed that while the district-formed committee map showed their subdivisions connected to the new elementary by a long strip of land along Woodland, there were very few houses in that area. The group said their neighborhood would become an isolated section of land at the new elementary school.

District planning director Jack Deyoe said isolated land blocks were one of the things the boundary committee took into consideration. However, he said population density in each subdivision, equal programs at every school, safe travel to school, overcrowding already present in the buildings and future growth in areas immediately surrounding Mize and the newest elementary were also factors.

"Somebody's got to move because of the pure numbers, even if we weren't making room for all-day kindergarten," he said.

Deyoe said that when Monticello Trails Middle School was built in 1995, students attended the closest school to their homes. That made an uneven population of about 200 at Lexington Trails and 500 at Monticello Trails, which led to unequal programs.

"Things have changed since 1995 with more population, so we can do more equitable distribution without sending kids far from home," he said.

Deyoe also said sending the CommUNITY's four subdivisions to the new elementary would reduce traffic on Monticello Road north of Shawnee Mission Parkway, because transportation would take place along Woodland Road.

Because some of those children will be traveling more than 2.5 miles to attend the new elementary, they'll be able to receive bus services for free, Deyoe said. Currently, families pay half the cost of sending the child on a bus and the district pays the other half. Deyoe estimated the district spends about $400 to $500 a year to bus one child, but the district could get transportation reimbursement from state taxes for sending students more than 2.5 miles.

Scott Anglemyer, another Clear Creek parent and CommUNITY group member, said his family wasn't interested in free bus transportation when their children could easily walk to Riverview or Clear Creek.

CommUNITY group members also said they were concerned with the method the district used to make a boundary proposal to the district. None of the group members said they had been contacted by the boundary committee, and parent Becky Schieber said committee members were surprised when she and a friend showed up at one of their meetings.

"We know there are going to be boundary changes," she said. "We're concerned with this process."

Deyoe said members of the district's boundary committee were nominated by building principals and district communications director Alvie Cater. Deyoe said the goal was to find committee members who were serious about the process and sought to benefit more than just their own territory. About 20 patrons served on the group since early September.

The board is scheduled to hear more about boundaries at its next meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 16 in the district offices, 35200 W. 91st Street in De Soto.

Also on Monday, the board voted on a list of names, mascots and colors for the new elementary school. Students in De Soto schools will vote on their favorites from a list of Chouteau, Hilltop, Monticello or Horizon elementary.

Possible mascots for the school include the Buffaloes, the Bald Eagles, the Stallions or the Tigers. School colors could be black and silver; green and black; red, white and blue; or orange and white.

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