MCPS administration building

The Missoula County Public Schools’ administration building on South Sixth Street West

The Missoula County Public Schools Board of Trustees Tuesday approved a process to review and recommend changes to the attendance boundaries of MCPS elementary schools.

The approved boundary study will take place beginning in November with the goal to have it completed before the end of the 2019-2020 school year. The study will analyze the boundaries for all MCPS elementary schools to determine which schools students will attend based on where they live.

“The intent is to have a fully transparent process that would include meetings at each of the elementary buildings to gather some feedback to inform the process,” MCPS Superintendent Mark Thane said.

The last time MCPS adjusted school boundaries was 13 years ago. Over the past 11 years, MCPS has grown by almost 800 students.

Currently, four out of the nine MCPS elementary schools have enrollments that exceed 95 percent of their planned capacity, while three others are below 75 percent of their planned capacity.

During the planning process for the Smart Schools 2020 bonds, Missoula residents expressed a desire for each MCPS elementary school to serve 450 to 500 students. They also requested that students have safe walking and biking routes to school.

With the Smart Schools 2020 bond-funded construction drawing to a close, the district needs adjustments. By the fall of 2019, construction of all MCPS elementary schools will be completed with the exception of Hawthorne Elementary and Lewis and Clark Elementary, which will be finished within the 2019-20 school year, according to MCPS Communication Director Hatton Littman.

The addition of the new Jeannette Rankin Elementary School building in the Maloney Ranch neighborhood of Missoula also creates a need for change because it pushes boundaries farther out. “That creates a ripple effect where we really have to look at all nine schools together,” Littman said.

The boundary changes will allow MCPS to balance schools that are near capacity with schools that still have the ability to serve up to 150 more students. Thane said the boundaries will also account for the potential impact of city and county growth plans.

The plan approved by the board includes a timeline for the 2018-2019 school year, with room to change and push back deadlines as needed during the 2019-2020 school year.

Under the proposed plan, the district will begin data-gathering and analysis in November and December. They will then form a boundary advisory committee that will include representation from all nine elementary schools to discuss the findings.

In January, the committee will establish decision-making criteria and hold meetings at all MCPS elementary schools to explain the process to parents, and also will hold a community open house.

In February, the committee will review draft options and hold another community open house. Based on the feedback they receive, the committee will select their top choice for boundary adjustments in March. In April, they will hold another community open house and present the top option to the MCPS Board of Trustees.

The initial goal was to have the process completed by May 2019; however, several trustees noted that finalizing boundary changes on such a tight timeline may be unrealistic, so they moved the goal for completion to May 2020. The district is also set to begin the same process for middle and high school boundaries in October 2019.

MCPS trustee Grace Decker asked the board to continue communicating about the timeline and said that she thinks it’s important not to rush the process. She said that changes to district boundaries in the past haven’t always yielded the best results, noting that some have created disparities among schools.

Following the meeting Tuesday, Littman sent an email to MCPS parents to explain the process and how they can become involved.

Ginger Sillars, a community member who is not currently a parent of an MCPS student, attended the meeting to express her concern that she wanted to be involved in the process. “I have a child who will be enrolling in kindergarten, so my concern was that we recently moved into a school district in which we want our children to attend,” she said.

Thane had said the Board of Trustees is still negotiating the composition of the committee but said he wants the district to be fully transparent throughout the process and consider community feedback.

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