Nearly 200 people packed Ballard High School’s library Wednesday night to participate in a community meeting about the controversial proposal to create Seattle school boundaries. “I thought it was going to be packed,” Ballard High Principal Phil Brockman told us as the crowd gathered. “But not this packed.”
Tracy Libros, who heads up enrollment for the school district, ran through a Powerpoint of the proposed student assignment boundaries, which were released October 6th. Libros said that the district is looking “at all the boundaries” to make possible changes. “We do believe that the initial proposal did not balance out the enrollment in the north end high schools, so we’re looking at that,” she said, explaining the new maps will be released on November 3rd. A school official told us the possible changes aren’t due to bad or incomplete data, but part of “continued refinement.”
Parents split into groups to discuss their concerns and questions, which were later read to the room. “The North Ballard community is very, very concerned about being cut off,” said one parent, referring to the dividing line at 85th St. that splits Ballard High to the south with Ingraham High (on 135th St. NW) to the north. Many other parents agreed. “I’d like to go to the defense of the families of the neighborhood of North Beach, Olympic Manor, the Blue Ridge area and Green Arbor (near Carkeek Park),” another parent said. “Any of our kids can get on a bus in those neighborhoods and be to Ballard in 15 minutes. And any kids that takes a bus from those neighborhoods in Ingraham takes an hour to an hour and a half.” One group even walked to Ballard High from 85th for the meeting, explaining that it took just 25 minutes.
While North Ballard residents felt cut off, some didn’t mince words about the fact Queen Anne and Magnolia kids will be attending Ballard High under the new boundary maps. “Obviously Queen Anne and Magnolia have a right to come to Ballard, but why aren’t they fighting the fact they sold Queen Anne High School several years ago? They should go to Ingraham,” one man said to a thundering applause. “Have them build their own (high school),” exclaimed another. Another parent brought up the new boundary that divides Whittier and West Woodland Elementary schools. “It will fragment the Whittier Heights neighborhood,” she said.
“I know that a lot of people in this room are not happy, but all I can tell you is that’s where the data lead us to,” Libros said. “When you put all the numbers together of where the students live and where the buildings are located, that is where the first proposed boundaries, which do need adjustment, landed,” she said. “There are certainly convenient buses in some cases, but not necessarily capacity at those schools for all these students.”
Another key issue that was repeated through the night is the grandfathering of siblings. “We want to keep our families together,” one man said, advocating a guaranteed grandfathering plan. “When our next son or daughter is coming up, we want to stay with that school.” While the district is proposing a 10 percent open enrollment provision, which would leave a tenth of a school’s enrollment to a lottery system, many expressed concerns that it’s too small to account for all the siblings and special circumstances. “We’re not doing it because we think it’s a good idea to be mean,” Libros said in response. “Seriously, it sounds like a no brainer, and it is in a sense, except we don’t know until the boundaries are adopted and we actually look at the students that are going to that school…. But to just stand here and say all siblings are grandfathered, I can’t do that because we don’t know if we can’t support it physically. It’s absolutely a high priority.”
A few parents raised concern over the short span of time between the release of the refined maps (November 3rd), the school board public hearing (November 9th) and the final board vote (November 18th). The district assured the crowd that they’re taking the community’s feedback seriously. “We really do welcome your input and comments,” Libros said. “We truly welcome your comments.”