New boundaries have been set for Kalispell's six public elementary schools that will determine where students attend kindergarten through fifth grade.
Redistricting discussions, which began last April, have completed after Kalispell Public Schools board of trustees voted unanimously to go with Option F at a meeting Tuesday. The new boundary lines will go into effect for the 2018-19 school year.
The impetus for redrawing the boundary lines was to include Rankin Elementary, which is currently under construction on Airport Road and is slated to open in August. The district's other elementary schools include Edgerton on Whitefish Stage Road; Elrod on Third Avenue West; Hedges on Fourth Avenue East; Peterson on Second Street West and Russell on West Nevada Street.
The goal of the boundary lines revision is to reduce overcrowding and allot space for enrollment growth in schools located near growing residential areas, which is being accomplished with the boundary changes according to Kalispell Superintendent Mark Flatau.
Based on an official October 2017 enrollment count there are 1,972 kindergarten through fifth-grade students attending the five existing elementary schools.
At the beginning of the redistricting process four initial versions of map boundaries were presented to the community during three public forums in October. Community members were then asked to rank the boundary line proposals and provide written comments.
In creating boundary lines, the district used guiding principles that — whenever possible — define boundaries along major geographical features like roads with student safety in mind; maximize transportation efficiency; keep schools within walking distance; balance demographic diversity and try not to divide apartment buildings or subdivisions.
Walking and driving distance remained top concerns throughout the process in addition to some large neighborhoods being split up. The socioeconomic mix of some schools was also raised as a concern.
As a result of comments and enrollment projections, the district came up with a fifth option, Option E, which was slightly altered into Option E 5.0. After plugging in more current enrollment numbers revisions needed to be made. Eventually, the district landed on Option F. The district received 58 typed comments to an online survey about Option F, with many favoring Options D or E.
“We've been down this road before on more than one occasion. Once you start tweaking one you end up tweaking the other and it results in just about some level of minor change to every enrollment area,” Flatau said.
While the district presented numbers of how many students would attend each school based on the boundary changes they did not include preschool, special education and behavioral students, which are currently housed at different schools.
Kalispell Public Schools Transportation Director Annie Jensen described the differences between Option E 5.0 and Option F before trustees voted.
“We dropped Edgerton down to Highway 2 where in plan E, it was a little farther north. Edgerton has less of Northridge, but a little bit of Empire Loop,” Jensen said. “I tried for [in] plan F to get all of Northridge into Russell because a lot of the families were hoping we could keep the whole neighborhood together. As mentioned it was such a large neighborhood it ended up not being possible in the end,” Jensen said.
“For Peterson we didn't go as high into Empire Loop. We moved the boundary line between Elrod and Peterson over just about a block closer to Peterson to put more students into Elrod,” she said. “We also split the boundary, which I think is cleaner, between Rankin and Peterson using Foy's Lake Road.”
“We changed the border between Hedges and Rankin as well. Buttercup Loop is in this area and we had split that subdivision in half,” Jensen said.
Flatau spoke about where future residential development is anticipated.
“As far as significant land development — that's reserved at Edgerton, at Rankin, and still to some extent, Peterson,” Flatau said.
Rankin Elementary is expected to accommodate, ideally, 450 students and help relieve overcrowding in the other elementary schools. The school is part of a $25.3 million elementary district bond issue that will include renovation of the district's existing elementary schools.
Flatau said that the district's next consideration is establishing a grandfather clause for students to continue at their current school for one year on a case-by-case basis. He had previously given an example of a child in fourth grade who would likely want to complete fifth grade at the same school before moving on to middle school. The district will also maintain its current in-district transfer policy.
“We really need to make decisions on grandfathering, on out-of-neighborhood [students] and allowing out-of-district tuition students earlier rather than later because that is going to drive our staffing decisions,” Flatau said to trustees.
Another consideration will be to whether or not to maintain courtesy bus routes. The school district is not required to bus students who live within 3 miles of a school, but courtesy routes are currently provided to students who have been displaced from their neighborhood schools due to overcrowding.
This is not the last time the elementary district will go through the redistricting process as it fulfills long-term facility plans. The site of Rankin Elementary is large enough for a future middle school. The district has also entered into an agreement with Stillwater Corp. to purchase 12 acres of land north of Kalispell for a future elementary school site. The purchase will be made with money the district already has and is contingent on voter approval. The property is west of Whitefish Stage Road in the vicinity of Easthaven Baptist Church. Rose Crossing will serve as the northern boundary.
The district will consider at its Jan. 23 meeting to adopt a boundary for high school attendance. Flatau said the idea is to use U.S. 2 and Idaho Street as the high school district boundary for Glacier and Flathead high schools. Students living north of U.S. 2 would attend Glacier and to the south, Flathead. This would not change existing high school assignments at partner schools, according to Flatau.
“Right now we're really close to that,” Flatau said, noting that the change would impact about 19 students who would be grandfathered in to continue attending his or her current high school.
Reporter Hilary Matheson may be reached at 758-4431 or firstname.lastname@example.org.