Cheney to redraw school boundaries

December 20, 2018

Spurred by surging growth on the West Plains, the Cheney School District is considering changes to its elementary and middle school attendance boundaries as construction is completed on new classrooms.

Seven classrooms have already been added to Betz Elementary and construction is underway on 10 classrooms at Sunset Elementary School and another eight classrooms at Windsor Elementary School, said associate superintendent Sean Dotson.

“Our whole district is growing pretty quickly right now,” he said.

The district has 4,896 students, which is up 280 from June. “That’s the largest single year growth I’ve seen in my years here,” Dotson said.

More changes are coming. A new Amazon fulfillment center is being built in the district and Fairchild Air Force Base is adding new planes, which means more families and more children, he said. “I don’t see that slowing down in the next few years,” he said.

Shortage of space is a problem at the elementary schools, but the issue affecting the middle schools is different. Both were built in 2012 to accommodate between 700 and 750 students. Right now the student population is 520 at Cheney Middle School and 675 at Westwood Middle School.

“We need to balance the attendance,” Dotson said. “When we opened them in 2012, they were the same size.”

The new classrooms at Sunset and Windsor elementary schools are expected to be complete in the fall. The district is also adding on to Cheney High School, with a wing of 17 new classrooms expected to be finished by spring break. Work on a weight and fitness room, auditorium and a practice gym will last through the next school year. All the projects are being paid for with a $52 million bond approved by voters in 2017.

This fall the district conducted an online Thought Exchange, asking people in the community what they wanted to do with the attendance boundaries. “Our first step is really to get feedback from the community,” he said. “We just asked them, what do you want us to consider?”

About 700 people responded, giving their ideas and rating other people’s ideas. “It really gives us a picture of what are people are thinking,” Dotson said. “It gives us a lot of data.”

The district recently finished hosting three community forums to get additional input from the public. One of the most important issues seems to be people wanting their children to attend a school close to their home and not spending a lot of time on a school bus, Dotson said.

“People want us to really consider transportation efficiency,” he said. “There’s also an acknowledgment that if we keep growing as quickly as we are, we’re going to need more schools.”

The district is already taking preliminary steps to consider new schools, including hiring experts to analyze where the growth is occurring and where new schools will be needed, Dotson said.

The goal of the attendance boundary process is to balance out the school populations while disrupting as few students as possible. Dotson said he knows some families have purchased homes based on which school their child will attend.

“We’re really conscious of that,” he said.

The issue now goes before the Boundary Review Committee, which includes administration officials, the principals from the affected schools and community members from Cheney, Airway Heights and the West Plains.

The committee will make an attendance boundary adjustment recommendation that will be presented to the public at an open house sometime in January, Dotson said. The school board is expected to vote on the recommendation in late January or early February with changes taking effect at the beginning of the 2019-20 school year.

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