Parents are rebelling against proposed school boundary changes — this time in Beaverton.
A group called “Sensible Boundaries For Beaverton Schools” has said the district is using flawed data and not following school board guidelines.
The Beaverton School Board could approve boundary changes next week in anticipation of the 2017 opening of the new South Cooper Mountain High School. A boundary advisory committee has been meeting since last October to recommend a boundary map to Superintendent Jeff Rose, who turned the recommendations into a final proposal.
Beaverton’s school board has the final say, but they’re limited to evaluating whether the plan meets pre-established criteria. They can’t, as Portland’s school board did, change the plan without violating their own policy.
Now, the “Sensible Boundaries” parents group has said the school board would be making a big mistake by approving the superintendent’s decision. Group member Jason Cowart said the plan is based on flawed data.
“At the very least, let’s get the data right,” Cowart said. “I really can’t imagine operating a business when you don’t operate in that fashion. Yet, here we are.”
Cowart’s colleague with the “Sensible Boundaries” group, Scott Gradisnik said the data problems call into question the need to immediately open a new high school.
“I think in the near term, it certainly calls into question the need for a South Cooper Mountain by 2017,” Gradisnik argued. “The rush to build the high school has increased the cost of building the high school.”
Charles Rynerson with Portland State University was the last outside demographer to forecast Beaverton’s enrollment. He confirmed to OPB that Beaverton’s forecast is for more students than he predicted, but Rynerson was reluctant to stand by the forecast he did four years ago. He conceded that the numbers could be higher due to stronger residential building activity.
Parents, however, dug a little deeper. They tested the methodology used by Beaverton’s demographer against historical enrollment trends.
“We went back to 2009, and used the numbers from there to see what his model would predict for enrollment in 2015, and that was off by 12 percent,” Gradisnik said. “It’s off by 1,400 high school students.”
Gradisnik argued the enrollment numbers are not off uniformly. He said the proposed changes would not address the overcrowding at Westview High School, and would lead to other high schools being under-enrolled.
The Beaverton School District declined an interview request for this story. But a spokesperson said the district stands by the official numbers the boundary advisory committee used and it will not have an out-of-process meeting to consider the group’s proposal.
But the data problems are only part of the parents’ concerns. They say even if changes are needed, the district disregarded key factors, such as student safety, in re-drawing boundary lines.
Cowart is a parent in the West Tualatin View Elementary School area, which would switch from feeding Sunset High to Beaverton High School — a longer commute along busier streets.
“One of the most exasperating things for our area and others was just a refusal to get safety in any way meaningfully considered by the committee and district administration,” Cowart said. “They really went out of their way to explain why they weren’t looking at the data.”
The superintendent’s 31-page boundary decision includes a few paragraphs on safety, concluding that the board’s criterion for safety is met. It downplays any potential increased risk of crashes caused by the changes.
“The number of motorists transporting students to school using city and county roads relative to existing traffic is very small,” the decision reads. “Changes in traffic patterns due to high school boundary adjustments would have minimal effect on these traffic patterns.”
The parents group has developed its own maps. Supporters relied heavily on a more diverse set of criteria than the Beaverton School District used, including traffic crash data from the Oregon Department of Transportation. The group argues its plans would lead to fewer traffic accidents per year than the superintendent’s plan.
Finally, parents said Beaverton school officials didn’t work transparently. The group hired an attorney to obtain district documents. The attorney turned up a letter from the district’s transportation administrator, Craig Beaver, that allegedly wasn’t shared with the advisory committee. It said the additional travel times and available space for buses at certain high schools could be difficult to manage. Beaver also said the changes could require more bus drivers.
The “Sensible Boundaries” group members conveyed their concerns to the district in a 33-page letter, dated April 18.
The school board is expected to vote on the superintendent’s recommended map and policies at its next meeting, Monday May 16. The parents group is pressing school board members to vote “no” and re-do the process.
If board members decide to start over, they’ll do so without Rose, who announced recently he was leaving Beaverton to run a school district in Georgia.
The proposed changes are only for Beaverton’s high schools. Changes for elementary and middle schools would come later.