As crowds go, the assembly at Tuesday’s meeting of the East Valley School District board of directors was on the partisan side – just not exactly for the home team.
A standing-room-only gathering poured into the EVSD administrative center on Jan. 4, with most voicing their opposition to district proposal that would change the present alignment of schools into what is being called a “P/K-8” or preschool/kindergarten through eighth grade system.
Currently, East Valley schools are organized with preschool/kindergarten through fifth grade at the elementary school level; fifth grade through eighth grade at the middle school level and the high school consisting of students in ninth through 12th grades.
By the end of Tuesday’s meeting, the board had unanimously approved the restructuring with Superintendent John Glenewinkel indicating that he would begin work on three scenarios with the new grade configuration – one involving a capital facilities bond; another including a capital levy and a third reflecting no increase in facilities funding.
“I believe this is what’s right for our district,” said board member Heidi Gillingham.
Before the vote took place, board President Mitch Jensen announced that the board, Glenewinkel and other district representatives would continue the discussion in a separate administrative office in response to a series of critical comments – and some epithets – from those opposed to the school reorganization, referred to by district officials as “revisioning.”
“I’ve asked several times politely,” Jensen said before departing to board chambers.
As Jensen and others were leaving, some in attendance questioned the responsiveness of board representatives in addressing the concerns of residents.
“You’re not listening to us,” said Stacy Montoya. “I want to talk to the people we elected.”
Following the protocol for special meetings, Tuesday’s gathering did not include a designated time for public comments. The format did not sit well with residents like Art Tupper, who said he would oppose a capital bond if the district went ahead with restructuring.
“I’ll work every day against this,” Tupper said. “You’re talking about tearing down schools that I helped to build.”
Glenewinkel, who remained in the room after Jensen had dismissed the board, responded to Tupper’s comments by indicating that the district is trying to address facilities that require a range of infrastructure improvements.
EVSD has run bonds to renovate schools in March and May of 2008 and again in February 2009 with each falling short of the required 60-percent supermajority.
Over the past year, Glenewinkel has emphasized “the issues of programming and student achievement at each school” when looking ahead to the next capital facilities vote. A trio of community advocacy groups, formed mostly of parents and citizens, presented the board with recommendations for district improvements in June after meeting for several months. The plan included the transition to a P/K-8 system.
Preliminary discussions of the revisioning idea have included utilizing the district’s four elementary schools as P/K-8 campuses. East Valley Middle School would be adapted to a “middle-level learning center” with alternating schedules for middle school students of similar ability levels. EVMS would also house administrative offices.
Part of the proposed scenario has to do with declining enrollment at East Valley’s two middle schools – Mountain View and EVMS. The campuses were designed for an overall enrollment of 650, but currently have less than 500 students.
Before the vote passed 5-0 in favor of restructuring, Board Members like Mike Harris said the district had “spent a tremendous amount of time” in researching the idea. Gillingham pointed out that the new arrangement would mean a full-time counselor at each school.
“We have everyone talking about student learning,” said Board Member Kerri Lunstroth. “This is what it’s all about.”
Glenewinkel said Tuesday that the district would need to prepare a resolution by March 11 in order to have a capital facilities proposal on the ballot in April. He added that a bond of $33 million to $35 million would likely include a state matching grant of between $27 million to $31 million. Funds would go toward renovation of the four elementary schools, including new gymnasiums and classrooms as well as electrical and other infrastructure improvements.
The next regularly scheduled East Valley board meeting is set for Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 6 p.m.