District boundary proposal draws criticism, support at public hearing
A mix of parents from throughout the De Soto district voiced their concerns Thursday about the new elementary and middle school boundaries.
But one theme was certain -- most want larger schools and a comprehensive long-term plan.
De Soto parent Peggy Newton warned parents that larger schools weren't always the answer to overcrowding.
"They're making a deal with the devil and don't know it," she said. "Fifteen years ago, the school board promised smaller schools, and I feel betrayed when I hear them talking about bigger schools.
Her children are able to get involved in a variety of activities at De Soto High School, she said, and that could change with larger schools.
With the defeat of a bond issue in this month's referendum, Board President Don Clark said he wasn't certain what was in store for De Soto's high school boundaries. Instead, Thursday's public hearing concerned the middle school and elementary school boundaries with Mill Creek Middle School and the new elementary school to open in the 2007-2008 school year.
Without considering the bond defeat and need for more high school space, the proposals so far would put every child at Mill Creek Middle School into Mill Valley High School. For example, since the high school boundaries are unchanged so far, a child at Riverview Elementary School would attend Mill Creek Middle School and Mill Valley High School.
"This is definitely an issue to the heart of many people," Clark said. "As a board member, you can imagine we've received numerous phone calls, but these issues are not falling on deaf ears."
One group, Families for CommUNITY Schools, voiced concerns of parents from the Clear Creek area. The families who live north of Johnson Drive don't understand why the district would want them to pass by two schools on their way to the newest elementary school, which is south of Shawnee Mission Parkway. The group provided the board with an alternative map, which would keep them at Clear Creek and families further south attending the new elementary school.
"We are not a 'move someone else' group," parent Kathy Kaffes said. "We developed this alternative because it gives the board another choice and because we feel like it makes more sense."
Parent Scott Anglemyer said the group was grateful for the district's boundary committee of patrons who met earlier this fall to develop the district's proposal. He said the group was not opposed to the bond.
"We're not an anti-bond group, and I don't want that impression," he said. "We're split on that issue, but as a group we were able to separate the bond issue from the boundary issue."
Members of the district's boundary committee explained they had to pick just one proposal.
One committee member, who asked not to be named, said she had no idea how many people were in the district's group with her since it was split into two, and she didn't specifically vote on any proposal. She disagreed with the district's proposal, which would send her child to one of the new schools.
Some parents had to move their children to new schools three or four times in the past six years. Many parents said they didn't mind one or even two moves to a different school building, but were concerned the district's boundaries would change again in two years.
Debie Hage, a parent and now grandparent of children in the district, said her own children went through nine boundary changes in 15 years.
"Clear Creek and Riverview are more than a location to us," parent April Williams said. "It is about relationships that are longstanding and trustworthy. That is the relationship we desire with our district."
Questioned about transferring special education students, board member Sandy Thierer told parents that those with special needs could specifically request staying at their current building if it was in the child's best interest.
However, as one parent pointed out, the special needs child's siblings could not request to remain at the same building, which could lead to stability problems.
Shawnee parent Melanie Knight said she never dreamed her child would attend the new school since she lives west of Kansas Highway 7. The road is a dangerous one to cross and would require either a bus or driving to school.
"We purchased our homes because they were less than two miles from the schools," she said. "All of De Soto has a great education system, but Mize is where we've always attended."
Knight said her children would adapt if they had to move.
"Even though it is hard for me, our kids will be fine," she said. "It's the parents who are having a hard time moving again."
CommUNITY member Natalie Bright, Shawnee, said she didn't have children in the district yet but became part of the group to support friends. She said she supported the CommUNITY proposal for the same reason she supported the bond issue -- she wanted to make sure children in her community were well educated and she wanted a better return value on her home.
"This is an unnatural boundary," she said of the district's proposal. "It's going to be hard for me to market my house when I have to disclose to them that you can see three great schools from my home, but that their children will have to get on a bus and drive to another school."
Jeff Hopkins, De Soto parent and member of the boundary committee, said he once lived in Brittany Heights, one of the subdivisions that have changed schools many times between Riverview and Clear Creek.
"All the comments we've heard tonight are valid," he said. "Everyone has valid opinions and concerns, and they're all things we considered when we drew our proposal. There is going to be a group that is unhappy with this when all is said and done."
Clark said parents would have many opportunities to voice their concerns over the boundary changes before a decision is made, likely in February. Although this boundary proposal concerns only changes in schools that feed into Mill Valley High School, board members may also have to change the high school boundaries to cope with growth after the failure of the bond. No high school boundary changes have been proposed to the board.
Copies of all proposals, including maps, are available at www.usd232.org, as are e-mail addresses of board members who say they're willing to answer any questions.
The next hearing regarding the boundary change will be at 7 p.m. Dec. 4 at Monticello Trails Middle School, 6100 Monticello Road, Shawnee.