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Board changes school borders

With the closure of an elementary school, Oak Harbor school officials spent the past months forming new boundaries, which means some families will see their children attending different schools this fall.

The new boundaries reflect five elementary schools instead of six. Clover Valley Elementary School is set to close at the end of the school year due to declining enrollment. The new boundaries also realign the middle school boundaries to set up a feeder system where fifth-graders from the same school move intact to the same middle school.

Despite criticism from several people, the Oak Harbor School Board approved a plan to redraw elementary and middle school boundaries. The board had two main options to consider.

Teacher Peggy Koch was concerned about the boundaries of Olympic View Elementary school, where some students living within walking distance would have to go elsewhere.

“We were appalled to find that all the walkers who live across the street from us won’t be going to our school,” Koch said.

Her husband, Dick, said the new boundary includes high density residential homes west of Highway 20 and it removes the long-term residential homes that comprise the neighborhood across the street from Olympic View Elementary.

Committee gives two options

The recommendation for the new boundaries came from work performed by a committee that formed last fall. The group came up with two options for the school board to consider.

“The committee had mixed feelings about both options,” said David Peterson, assistant superinendent.

He added the deciding point came down to transportation costs.

The school district would receive a larger reimbursement from the state for busing costs if it chose the option the board eventually approved. The school district receives reimbursement from the state for busing students who live more than a mile away from their school.

Peterson said there are several places around the district where students are bused and live less than a mile away from school. However, those are areas that lack a safe way for students to walk to school.

As for the neighborhood Koch was concerned about, Peterson said many students living there already attend Oak Harbor Elementary rather than Olympic View Elementary.

School of choice remains

Another parent was concerned about Oak Harbor Elementary School’s future as the district’s “school of choice.” That allows students from outside the school’s boundaries to attend. The school features several unique programs, such as requiring school uniforms and partnering with Deception Pass State Park for educational programs.

The school district cut transportation for students participating in the school of choice and parents are responsible for arranging a way to get their children to school. That cut saved the school district approximately $100,000. Overall, next year’s budget deficit was projected at $3.5 million.

That doesn’t matter for parent Coreen Lerch. She advocated continuing the school of choice and highlighted several of the school’s attractive programs, saying that parents are willing to get their child to school.

“They don’t care about transportation,” Lerch said.

The school’s boundaries will be larger next year. Peterson said the expansion was necessary because some families may not choose to continue participating in the school of choice. Nevertheless, between a third and half the students attending the school will come from outside the school’s normal boundary next year.

That situation prompts concern from the Oak Harbor Education Association, which represents the district’s teachers.

Union president Peter Szalai said the school of choice produces instability and affects balanced class sizes in other schools.

Jane Johnson, union representative, questioned what would happen if families can’t sustain the school of choice program.

“It doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room if parents don’t choose to transport their children,” Johnson said.

Peterson countered, saying the school of choice helps with flexibility because it helps maintain balance through the transfer process.

Swing area for Maylor Point

There is one area within the school district where students will attend two different schools.

School officials wrote in a swing area for Maylor Point. Children in that neighborhood will attend either Olympic View or Crescent Harbor. Peterson said that many students living there currently attend Olympic View but that will change when families move from Capeheart housing near Crescent Harbor to Maylor Point.

That area makes it easy to bus the children to two different schools.

School board member Kathy Jones was concerned the swing area will cause problems with families.

“It just appears to me that this will create a great deal of confusion,” Jones said.

Peterson said staff will work with families if they show up at the wrong school. Letters will soon be going out to parents that will be impacted by the boundary change.

Parents can apply to transfer their child, however, such changes will happen on a prioritized basis and only if space is available. According to information from the Oak Harbor School District, those criteria, in order of priority, are:

• Siblings of students attending special programs such as ACE, Life Skills and Choices.

• Returning fifth and eighth graders.

• Students with before and after school childcare needs.

• Students who have attended their school for two or more years can transfer back to their own school.

Parents can pick up transfer applications beginning May 14 at a school office, to be returned to their current school by June 8.

The school board approved the boundary changes Monday night by a 4-1 margin. Gary Wallin, David McCool, Corey Johnson and Vicki Harring voted for the measure while Kathy Jones voted against it.

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