Union wants new school boundaries

There are more students at Hillcrest Elementary School than any other elementary school in the Oak Harbor School District and the teachers union wants steps taken to balance student populations.

Oak Harbor Education Association President Peter Szalai said during Tuesday’s school board meeting that the union wants the elementary school boundaries redrawn to ensure balanced populations among the schools.

Hillcrest has approximately 560 students — more than any other elementary school in the school district. Other elementary schools in the district have between 379 and 445 students.

Even though the Hillcrest building is one of the larger schools, some classrooms have the maximum number of students. In an interview after the meeting, Szalai pointed out that each of the fourth-grade classes has 28 students, which is the maximum allowed for fourth-grade classes in the district.

“It’s not a good learning environment for fourth graders when they are trying to pass the WASL,” Szalai said.

He said the union got concerned about overcrowding at Hillcrest when an additional second grade teacher was hired in January and an additional fifth grade teacher will be hired next school year. He said the union has an agreement that the school district will spread class size and school populations equitably throughout the district.

The additional students have a tough effect on specialists. Like every other elementary school in the district, Hillcrest has one librarian and one counselor serving students, Szalai said. One art teacher teaches in a space that technically isn’t a classroom.

While Hillcrest is crowded, other schools in the district have room to spare. Crescent Harbor has the fewest students of the six elementary schools with 379 students.

Szalai would like the district administration to examine school boundaries every year in January or February.

District Superintendent Rick Schulte said after the meeting that Hillcrest is bordering on the high end of student populations. He said school sizes should be between 450 and 550 students.

Schulte said, however, that it’s too late to look at boundary adjustments for the coming school year. If officials wanted to re-adjust school boundaries, they would do so in January. That way affected families would have time to prepare for a change.

“You absolutely have to give families advance time to plan,” Schulte said.

It’s been several years since the school district adjusted school boundaries.

Schulte said he doesn’t want to make frequent adjustments to school boundaries because of the uncertainty it presents to families.

Although he didn’t know when boundaries will be examined, it could happen in the future. Officials are waiting to see how the growth at the base and construction on the south side of town will affect the school district. One area officials are watching is a 20-acre property near Hillcrest. Schulte said that property could be developed in the near future and, when occupied, could add more students to the already crowded elementary school.

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