Despite frustration and demands for lax grandfathering priviliges at a recent school board meeting, task force members largely agreed last month that the new boundaries need to take effect as soon as possible, with a small exception for kids entering fifth grade to finish attending their elementary school.
The new school boundaries, which the board adopted last year, had several goals in mind. A big chunk of Mountain View — east of Highway 85 and north of Central Expressway — was zoned for the new school at Slater Elementary, which is set to open in 2019 and needed its own area from which to draw students.
The boundaries also limited the enrollment pool for the popular Bubb and Huff elementary schools to residents living south of El Camino Real, which was seen as an important way to reduce overcrowding at both schools. Bubb and Huff are both currently out of permanent classroom space and house students in portable classrooms, which will remain in place until enrollment declines at the schools.
Projections following this year's open enrollment process, released last week, show the scope of the problem: Bubb and Huff elementary are expected to have 111 kindergarten students for the 2018-19 school year, requiring at least five kindergarten classrooms and a whole lot of portable buildings to stay below mandated student-to-teacher ratios. District estimates show kindergarten enrollment would decrease to 101 students at Bubb and 93 students at Huff if the new attendance boundaries boundaries were to take effect.
But turning the new boundaries — and the benefits they are supposed to bring — into a reality anytime soon means that hundreds of students will need to be relocated. At the March 15 board meeting, Superintendent Ayinde Rudolph said the task force split into two groups with slightly different takes on grandfathering. The first proposal, dubbed Recommendation A, called for no grandfathering at all — as soon as the 2019-20 school year starts, kids would be subject to the new boundaries. The second proposal, Recommendation B, proposed allowing grandfathering for incoming fifth-grade students so they can finish going to elementary school at the same location.
Parent Lindsay Phillips told board members that the task force should soften its stance on grandfathering, and allow students like her daughter to finish attending elementary school without being displaced by the new boundaries. She said neither recommendation seems to take into account what's good for the kids and families affected by the boundary changes, and that it would disrupt the stability children need when growing up.
"Kids thrive and grow when they have trusted adults in their lives, and schools build those relationships between children and their teachers and support staff," she said. "Upending these relationships is a poor decision that is detrimental to the well-being of children."
Shoreline West parent Lauren Rodrigues argued that the district should grandfather "as many students" as possible during the transition, and that trustees ought to give equal weight to the needs of all residents.
"We need a smooth transition to these new school boundaries, we need continuity for our children and our neighborhood, and grandfathering would allow for a reasonable adjustment to a huge change," she said.
Others took aim at the district's process, and expressed frustration that neither of the two recommendations go beyond allowing one year of grandfathering. Bubb parent Gina Chen said she was told the task force would seriously consider a policy to allow students to continue attending their current school regardless of boundary changes. But she said the task force members — only one of whom has a child who would be displaced — treated the affected students as an afterthought.
"We were assured that grandfathering would be discussed with the EPTF and to be patient," Chen said. "We trusted that meant there would be thoughtful discussion with fair representation for all children and recommendations backed by data. Apparently this is not the case."
Rudolph said the community is split on grandfathering, largely depending on where parents live and what's best for their children, and that any solution is going to leave some people unhappy. But he said it would be unfair to describe the task force as dismissive, and that the group of parents and staff have had lengthy debates about extending grandfathering to multiple grade levels.
"I don't want people to feel like these individuals are not debating this and really talking about it," he said. "I don't want to diminish their work because they are having substantive debates and they are thinking about every single family that is impacted."
Though both groups in the task force are still tweaking recommendations — and it's not clear whether the final recommendation to the board will be collapsed into one or bifurcated — neither recommendation is poised to take a wildly different position on the issue. At the March 27 meeting, task force members working on Recommendation B stood by grandfathering for incoming fifth-grade students in the 2019-20 school year — which would not extend to siblings — while the group working on Recommendation A softened its stance to allow fifth-grade grandfathering as well.
Switching over to the new boundaries wouldn't be a slam dunk when it comes to solving overcrowding at all of the district's schools. The Shoreline West neighborhood, which district officials determined extends west all the way to Chiquita Avenue, would be zoned for Landels Elementary, boosting the school's incoming kindergarten class to a staggering 158 students, according to district estimates. If the numbers hold true, district officials would need to provide a total of seven kindergarten classrooms at the school.
The next task force meeting is scheduled for April 24, and is open to the public. The meetings are typically located at Stevenson Elementary in conference room "D," and start at 6:30 p.m.
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