School district seeks input on ways to fix overcrowding problems

The Lake Washington School District (LWSD) wants residents to offer input on ways to solve overcrowding problems now and in the future. Public input sessions will be held as follows: • 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, Eastlake High School, 400 228th Ave. NE, Sammamish • 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, Juanita High School, 10601 NE 132nd St., Kirkland • 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6, LWSD Resource Center, 16258 NE 74th St., Redmond

Rosa Parks Elementary school principal Dr. Lin Zurfluh stands in front of one of four portables on school grounds. Rosa Parks Elementary in the Redmond Ridge development was built for 500 students. In its fifth year

The Lake Washington School District (LWSD) wants residents to offer input on ways to solve overcrowding problems now and in the future.

Public input sessions will be held as follows:

• 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28, Eastlake High School, 400 228th Ave. NE, Sammamish

• 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 30, Juanita High School, 10601 NE 132nd St., Kirkland

• 5-7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 6, LWSD Resource Center, 16258 NE 74th St., Redmond

The same information will go online Saturday, Sept. 25 at www.lwsd.org and online input will be accepted through Oct. 7.

In Part 1 of this two-part series about overcrowding in the LWSD, the Redmond Reporter will focus on current enrollment concerns, mostly at the elementary level. Part 2 will examine projected overcrowding at the junior high/middle school and high school levels, as the LWSD shifts to new grade configurations (K-5, 6-8 and 9-12) in fall of 2012 and beyond.

TOO CLOSE FOR COMFORT

Several elementary schools in the LWSD — notably, Rosa Parks and Albert Einstein in Redmond and Margaret Mead in Sammamish — are now crunched for space, said LWSD communications director Kathryn Reith.

Rosa Parks Elementary in the Redmond Ridge development was built for 500 students. In its fifth year, the school’s enrollment is nearly 700.

“It quickly escalated beyond our projections,” said Dr. Lin Zurfluh, the new principal at Rosa Parks.

Much of this is due to ongoing development such as Redmond Ridge East.

“Every time they sell a home, we get a new family,” said Zurfluh. “And we’re happy to have them, but unlike schools with a stable population, we grow throughout the year.”

Currently, all classrooms at Rosa Parks are full and there are eight more classes housed in four portable units.

Earlier on the day of the Redmond Reporter’s visit, Zurfluh walked the Rosa Parks grounds with Forrest Miller, the LWSD’s director of facilities, to discuss where more portables might be added as needed. Each property in the district has a different capacity for portables, based on the amount of land and jurisdictional limits, Reith noted.

“We might have room for one or two more, but that would eat up play field space,” Zurfluh explained.

Portables also need proper foundations, heating, ventilation and technology set-ups. It’s not as simple as just plopping down an extra portable, said Zurfluh. And portables don’t have restrooms, so children have to walk to the main school building.

As well, the Rosa Parks playground has only a small covered area for inclement weather. Kids are outside for recess every day, rain or shine — except when there’s a dangerous storm — because there’s not enough room indoors.

“Besides needing more classrooms, we need basic core infrastructure, such as the Commons area where children eat. Right now, we have three lunch shifts,” Zurfluh continued.

This fall, Rosa Parks had to hold three separate, standing-room-only Curriculum Nights in the Commons, which is also used for assemblies and drama productions.

“Scheduling activities in the gym and the library is also a nightmare,” said Zurfluh.

Zurfluh has even considered buying booster chairs for the Rosa Parks conference room, to serve as a spot where Kindergarten children can meet for small-group activities.

“We have to be creative, make best use of available space,” she said.

In addition to Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein and Margaret Mead, other elementaries that are currently over capacity, by at least 80-95 students, include Norman Rockwell, Horace Mann and John Audubon in Redmond and Carl Sandburg, Peter Kirk and Juanita in Kirkland.

A BIT OF A BABY BOOM

Rosa Parks now has six Kindergarten classes, six first-grade classes, four second-grade classes, four third-grade classes, four fourth-grade classes, two fifth-grade classes and three sixth-grade classes.

“Even in a tough economic climate, housing on the Ridge is very stable,” said Zurfluh. “A lot of parents said they bought in this area because of the quality of the schools. Younger siblings will be coming to us, too.”

Reith added, “The Lake Washington School District also tracks King County birth rates which are going up. There are larger Kindergarten classes all around Redmond.”

ELEMENTARY STRATEGIES

Reith reviewed short-term strategies to ease overcrowding at elementary schools.

Converting specialized classrooms into regular classrooms is one that’s already being used at some buildings.

The LWSD might also eliminate full-day Kindergarten programs or set new boundaries to balance enrollments.

The district could also bus students from overcrowded schools to others that are less crowded and/or add more portables, up to the state limits.

Long-term strategies would be to build one or two more elementary schools.

“The next modernization bond would be in February 2014,” said Reith. “In 2006, we added Rachel Carson Elementary to account for population growth on the Sammamish Plateau. In 2014, we could maybe add one or two more elementaries, in the Redmond Ridge and Einstein areas. Each year, we see new enrollment there.”

FUNDING CONSIDERATIONS

A $265 million bond measure for the LWSD, to provide more space for students, didn’t pass in February 2010.

A post-election survey revealed that the recession and concerns about taxes were the reasons. Most people said they supported the school district, “but said it was not the right time to ask for more money,” Reith explained.

“So we’re looking at immediate needs and also looking at long-term needs for a 2014 modernization proposal,” she said.

At upcoming public input sessions and online, LWSD residents will be able to learn more about possible funding measures that could be put on voters’ ballots in February.

LWSD Superintendent Dr. Chip Kimball told the Redmond Reporter, “We’re in a bit of a dilemma in light of the economy. … At this time, we’re asking them to contemplate the urgent areas. If we don’t solve problems well, in the long term, we don’t have core facilities. That will result in multiple lunch periods, crowded halls and bathrooms and compromised student safety.”

Kimball stated, “Our priorities are management and supervision of students, safety, making the environment conducive to learning — and also the concern that enriched learning may be sacrificed. If we’re looking at urgent needs, safety and the learning environment are tops.”

At the public input sessions, Kimball said, “We’ll have a number of stations they can go to, to get information. We’re making the timing flexible. They can drop in, get what they need. We want to be responsive to people’s schedules. They can spend 15 minutes, 30 minutes or go online to get the information. The intention is for community members to ask questions in a personalized way and offer their ideas.”

REPORTER FOLLOW-UP

In Part 2 of this series about the LWSD, look for information on enrollment trends at the junior high/middle school and high school levels, how growth may impact those students in the future and more information about the funding measures that could be put on voters’ ballots.

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