School boundaries issue cools off

Once-anxious parents now OK with changes by Bend-La Pine Schools

By Megan Kehoe / The Bulletin

Published Jan 29, 2013 at 04:00AM

Note to readers: This article has been corrected. The original article incorrectly referred to a voter-rejected bond measure as a factor in redistricting decisions. The Bulletin regrets the error.

Nearly two years ago, it was all that any parent in the Bend-La Pine School district with a prospective middle schooler could talk about.

There were heated discussions, complaints and, in some cases, outrage over what the district planned to do.

Now, into the second school year of adjusted middle school boundaries, many district officials and parents say the dust has finally settled.

“We had a few loud voices that were communicating with us early and often, and we think their needs have been met,” said Julianne Repman, communication director with Bend-La Pine Schools. “A lot of people that had opportunities to make different decisions during the process did that.”

The district's 2011 boundary change aimed to solve crowding at Cascade Middle School, a west-side school that was over capacity by 100 students. The district decided to change school boundaries, shuffling incoming students between the four Bend middle schools to ease crowding at Cascade Middle.

Parents upset with the decision urged its repeal at a series of four public meetings in May 2011. In the end, the school board upheld the new boundaries.

Hot as the topic seemed at the time, the issue appears to have faded nearly two years later.

Many parents took advantage of residency options offered by the district. Students who already attended Cascades Middle or whose older siblings were enrolled there were allowed to continue at the school, with bus transportation included, under a two-year grandfather clause.

Enrollment at Cascade Middle stands at 867 students, down about 40 students from two years ago. When the grandfather clause times out at the end of this school year, the numbers at Cascade Middle will most likely drop further.

“Ideally, we would like to get down around the 850 (student) range,” Cascade Middle School Principal Stephanie Bennett said.

According to information provided by the district, 134 students who should be attending Pilot Butte Middle School this year were allowed to stay at Cascade Middle because of the grandfather clause.

Lee Edlund, parent of a High Lakes Elementary student at the time, attended the public meetings in 2011. High Lakes Elementary faced the possibility of being split between Cascade Middle and Pilot Butte Middle with the boundary changes. In the end, the school was kept within the Cascade Middle boundary line.

“Cascade remains overcrowded,” Edlund said. “It just left me thinking, what was the point of putting the town through the process? Of having neighbors fighting with neighbors? It caused a lot of hard feelings.”

Dana Miller, another High Lakes Elementary parent in 2011, was vocal about the redistricting, encouraging the district to improve Pilot Butte Middle School's offerings before making the boundary changes. Her child currently attends Cascade Middle, and Miller said she's happy with the outcome.

“The district handled a very difficult situation very well,” Miller said. “They really tried to do what was best for the kids and not split schools.”

Repman said had the district not moved the school boundaries, 1,000 students might have crowded into Cascade Middle this year.

Pilot Butte Middle has an enrollment today of 658, up about 35 students from two years ago. Principal Michael Hecker said many parents had preconceived notions about Pilot Butte Middle at the time of the redistricting meetings that were simply untrue.

“People were judging us based on test scores rather than the welcoming atmosphere of our school,” Hecker said. “But I think that some who had negative comments about Pilot Butte have been pleasantly surprised.”

Pilot Butte PTSO President Mark Tumilson's daughter attended Buckingham Elementary School at the time of the district changes and faced the prospect of either going to Sky View Middle School or Pilot Butte Middle.

“I think that Pilot Butte has always been looked at as kind of a lower-class middle school,” Tumilson said. “At the time, my wife and I talked about sending our daughter to Sky View because of the stuff we had heard previously about Pilot Butte. But we're very glad and happy that we didn't do that.”

Travis Sully, 13, a Pilot Butte Middle School seventh-grader who attended Pine Ridge Elementary and would have gone to Cascade Middle School before the boundary changes, says he's content with where he ended up.

“I didn't think it (Pilot Butte) was going to be as good as it is,” Travis said. “I was impressed.”

Capacity at Bend middle schools are manageable at this point, but the district is anticipating a change. Repman said a Portland State University study predicts an increase of 800 students at the middle school level in Bend in the next 10 years, making the construction of an additional middle school a necessity in coming years.

In May, the district will ask voters to support a bond measure to build a new middle school that would help accommodate the anticipated influx of students.

“Redistricting isn't something that's on everybody's mind like it was back then,” Miller said. “But the issue is still out there. There's always the possibility that there will be more of this in the future.”

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