Changes to Elementary School Boundaries Delayed

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At the last meeting of the boundary committee for Yelm Community Schools, the recommendation was made to put off proposed school boundary shifts until the 2016-17 school year.

The reasons it listed, according to YCS Superintendent Andy Wolf, are: legislative decisions that have yet to be made by lawmakers in Olympia regarding the McCleary ruling and Initiative 1351; the results of a water rights case regarding the city of Yelm that may come from the Washington state Supreme Court in the next few months, which would impact housing and growth in the city; the possibility that the district may run a bond proposal next year, though no final decision has been made; and the proposed job cuts at Joint Base Lewis-McCord.

“They’re really just trying to give themselves more time,” Wolf said.

In the interim, the district will employ some of the same strategies it has been using this school year to lessen the burden on its more overcrowded elementary schools — busing some students who live behind Yelm High School to Mill Pond instead of Southworth and sending students who live in the Tustin apartments to Prairie.

“We’re hopeful that with the enrollment that we’re seeing and we know that it will at least be a little bit slowed right now because there’s housing being built, but it’s not at the pace that we have seen in the past, so that we can kind of hold on,” Wolf said.

Revising the boundaries associated with the six elementary schools in the district is necessary because it will even out the overcrowding currently impacting some schools. At this point, no additional portables are planned anywhere in the district.

“Even if the district stays flat, we’re still 850 kids over, so we just need to figure out how to manage that,” Wolf said. “Almost all of our buildings are at capacity or over now, but it would put them all over capacity. ... I need to shift the student population as best I can and spread it over the whole demographic.”

The last time YCS changed its boundaries was in 2006 when all elementary schools switched from kindergarten through fifth grade to kindergarten through sixth grade, which was related to the bond that rebuilt McKenna Elementary and the high school. When the district revises its boundaries this time around, Wolf said he wants to do so knowing the changes will last for years in order to minimize the disruption to students.

“We realize that many of our families have already transitioned into Yelm; they may be a young family that works for the state or they may come in and be military, so they’ve already made multiple moves,” Wolf said. “We know that trying to provide the most consistent education probably is more favorable, however, sometimes it can’t be helped.”

Wolf has already held one forum on the boundary revision plans with another one scheduled for next week. The feedback he has received since the meeting in March has been that those who may not like the changes understand why they are necessary. Wolf has also received suggestions on the proposed boundaries as a result of the first forum, as well as from YCS staff members.

“There’s been some really great solution-oriented thinking,” Wolf said. “There’s been a lot of positive that’s come out of this situation. We feel really good about that. Parents are really starting to understand the situation, they understand the growth.”

The district has a boundary change comments survey on its website, www.ycs.wednet.edu, until Wednesday, April 15.

“There’s a lot of factors involved and we’re just trying to make sure that we’re making the best decisions for kids,” Wolf said. “We know that people may not appreciate the decisions that will be made in the future, but they really will have the best impact for kids as far as smaller class size, utilizing facilities, trying to do the things that we can to make sure that all our kids have access to a quality education.”

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