Gutknecht on “Swan Creek residents ask to join Oregon schools”

Kurt Gutknecht:

Frustrated by continued uncertainty over where their children will attend school, residents of Swan Creek are asking to be transferred to the Oregon School District.
The decision would reverse a 2003 decision that transferred Swan Creek to the Madison Metropolitan School District.
Residents obtained signatures from 188 households on a petition asking the respective school boards to consider the request. Three real estate developers also endorsed the move.
If the school boards refuse the request, residents can ask that an appeals board consider the transfer.
“We know it’s an uphill battle,” said resident Renee Hammond, referring to the previous unsuccessful attempt to reverse the decision of the two school boards.
Several residents said they had been misled about schools when they purchased their homes. Some had been told that they could choose which school district they wanted to attend or that the Madison district planned to construct a school in Swan Creek or elsewhere in Fitchburg.
More upsetting to residents, however, is the uncertainty over whether their children can continue to attend Leopold Elementary School. The Madison school board is weighing plans to alleviate overcrowding at Leopold that could send children from Swan Creek to several different schools.
Organizers of the petition drive said they could easily have obtained more signatures.
Romney Ludgate said there’s no assurance that making space for additional students at Leopold would be more than a short-term solution to overcrowding and that residents might have to continually address the issue.
“Until a school is built in Fitchburg, residents of the southern part of the district in Fitchburg will continue to face extreme instability” in where Swan Creek students would attend school, Hammond said.

Jennifer Shanahan said it was clear that other new developments in Fitchburg would add more students to Leopold. The district doesn’t consider these additional students until these developments are platted.
“We would be happy to remain at Leopold if they could give us a viable plan. Even the preferred plan (which would add several classrooms to Leopold) is only a short-term solution. In five years, we’ll be facing the exact same problem again,” said Deb Gilbert.
“We can’t wait and fight this battle year after year. Swan Creek is a great neighborhood. We deserve a great school,” said Ludgate.
Residents said they also felt disenfranchised in the district and that the system of electing board members amounted to taxation without representation. The Oregon district has a representative from Fitchburg on its board.
Residents also questioned whether voters in the district would support a referendum to construct an addition to Leopold, especially when several schools on the district’s east side are dealing with a shortage of students. The Madison school board again appears to be divided in its support for an addition at Leopold, which may reduce support for the referendum authorizing construction at Leopold.
Parents also questioned the wisdom of constructing such a large school (more than 1,000 students) at Leopold.
They praised the commitment of the Madison district to support educational opportunity for all students and said they would be delighted to stay in the district if it weren’t for the overcrowding and uncertainty.
Gilbert said she had studied data concerning the relationship between academic performance and the percentage of economically disadvantaged students. Transferring Swan Creek students from Madison’s schools would have only a slight effect on academic performance, she said – and would alleviate much of the overcrowding at Leopold.
“We can make any school a success, if it’s stable. We’re the soccer moms who want to contribute,” said Erin Ennis.
“We want to be involved. We can’t wait to help” at our children’s school, said Shanahan.
The transfer request will be discussed this month by both school boards. If the boards deny the request, residents can petition the state Department of Public Instruction to hear the case.
In 2003, developer Phil Sveum was unsuccessful in his attempt to have the School District Boundary Appeal Board reverse the transfer.

Additional background, links and documents.