A fourth option has been added to the mix of potential ways Kalispell Public Schools might redraw elementary boundaries.
The option was presented during a well-attended board meeting on Oct. 10 and will be included along with three other options at upcoming forums.
“The idea in this plan is what would impact the least amount of students in my mind,” said District Transportation Director Annie Jensen, who is drawing the boundaries.
A top priority in revising boundary lines is reducing overcrowding and planning for enrollment growth. The district is looking to define boundaries along major geographical features such as roads or railroad tracks with student safety in mind. Other criteria is maximizing transportation efficiency and keeping schools within walking distance.
The district is also doing its best in keeping subdivisions, apartment complexes and trailer parks within one school’s boundaries.
“And it’s a challenge when you adjust one boundary, or whether you’re adding or reducing the number of students — you then have to go around the district and adjust the boundaries of all the other ones in order to get that balance,” said Kalispell Public Schools Superintendent Mark Flatau.
The district is revising boundaries in order to add the sixth elementary school that is being constructed on Airport Road.
The process is being completed in-house using two software programs used to manage transportation routes and student data called Edulog and PowerSchool. Flatau said the programs are robust enough to produce data needed to redraw school boundaries combined with Jensen’s previous experience working for EduLog. Going in-house will also save the district money according to Flatau.
The software allows the district to zoom in on details such as where students are concentrated, or how many students live in an apartment building, for example.
Many of the audience members at the Oct. 10 meeting were Hedges Elementary families concerned that the first three initial proposals had students crossing major highways or busy roads, which occurs even in current boundaries, but seemed pleased with the direction of the fourth option after it was presented.
“There’s always going to be the question of students crossing U.S. 93,” said school board trustee Jack Fallon. “Where’s the safest place to cross 93, or how are they going to be transported? What’s the safest place to cross Highway 2? We don’t know the answers to all of those, but you can see whether it’s in the south part, or the north part there’s going to have to be crossing of 93 or Highway 2 across the board. It can’t be eliminated.”
After a member of the audience questioned why the fourth plan wasn’t initially created administrators and some trustees reiterated that this is the beginning, not the conclusion of a process which will include public input at the forums and could result in generating more boundary options.
Trustees also noted that each school will have it’s own set of concerns. At a Sept. 26 meeting when the first three plans were first presented, Peterson Elementary teacher Stephanie Buzzell advocated for maintaining a blend of student’s from different socioeconomic backgrounds as a top priority for the school, along with reducing overcrowding.
Hedges Elementary parent Jason Cohen said he understood the process is complex and not everyone will be happy.
“At the same time, we’re all first and foremost defenders of our kids and our communities and the reason we’re all here is because at least the first three proposals that we saw ... seemed to raise some concerns about safety for kids and crossings as well as the integrity of our community,” Cohen said.
He also encouraged the district to preserve neighborhood, elaborating that schools “preserve the vitality of a neighborhood” and community.
“Most of us chose to live where we live based on our school, and most of us are involved in school organizations like PTO and want to help build that sense of community again recognizing nature of redistricting — all neighborhoods are not going to be left intact — but we’d encourage you as a board to really look at options that preserve neighborhood boundaries as much as possible,” Cohen said.
The district’s elementary schools include Edgerton on Whitefish Stage Road; Elrod on Third Avenue West; Hedges on Fourth Avenue East; Peterson on Second Street West; Russell on West Nevada Street; and the new school on Airport Road.
The public is invited to attend the forums, which will all be held from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Kalispell Middle School library on Oct. 19, 23 and 26. The public is asked to enter the building from the upper staff parking lot off of Meridian Drive.
“The three community forums, these are all repeats. Meaning if you attend one you don’t have to attend the other two,” Flatau said.
The forums will be held in a similar manner as previous facility planning meetings. The options will be presented, questions answered and then participants will be able to rank each option and provide written feedback.
“Then we plan to bring all that information and data back to the board at the November business meeting,” Flatau said.
The board also approved recommendations naming Edgerton Elementary Principal Merisa Murray as principal of the new south elementary and promoting Edgerton Assistant Principal Jen Stein as Edgerton’s principal.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.