MCPS administration building

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

After months of discussion, the Missoula County Public Schools trustees have not quite finished deliberating proposed changes to elementary attendance boundaries.

Trustees delayed voting on recommendations for changes in several elementary attendance boundaries in Tuesday night's meeting, and approved a motion that a new map be presented at the June 25 board meeting or a special board meeting.

Trustees expressed concerns over everything from socioeconomic inequalities to how elementary boundary changes could effect middle school placements.

The decision to delay the vote began with a discrepancy on a map outlining the areas for change, which was presented to trustees. The map contained an error in the zoning of several streets in one of the areas of change for Russell Elementary. 

The discrepancy on the map led to a discussion in which trustees expressed uncertainty regarding their voting options, although those options were met with little discussion when they were presented at the board's May 14 meeting. 

The structure of the Tuesday meeting also posed challenges to trustees as they tried to determine when they were able to ask questions, comment or make motions to allow for the discussion of the boundary study.

"I move that we do nothing," trustee Mike Smith said, which then allowed for open discussion among the board. 

Board members expressed concerns that they were rushing the process to vote on new boundaries, as well as waiting too long to vote and then dealing with the effects of overcrowding at schools.

They also brought up an ongoing struggle to address issues of equity and diversity among schools, and how various populations of students are impacted by changes to boundaries. 

They questioned whether it would be in the district's best interest to vote on the changes they were presented with, or to wait until they and/or another boundary study committee have more time to consider the impact of various changes.

The district plans to review middle school boundaries in the coming 2019-20 school year, and on Tuesday, trustees also questioned the process of conducting the boundary study for elementary and middle schools as separate processes, rather than combining the studies. 

An elementary boundary study advisory committee, made of parents representing each of the nine elementary schools and staff representing different student stakeholder groups, worked with WGM Group to consider various options to reduce overcrowding among MCPS schools.

The committee reviewed student data, a demographic study, population forecast, and community feedback to come up with their recommendations for the Board of Trustees. 

The recommendations for changes (areas 23, 28 and 29 illustrated on a map) presented to trustees prior to Tuesday's meeting included changes that would affect students at Jeannette Rankin, Chief Charlo and Russell elementary schools. The motion approved late Tuesday night concerned change areas 28 and 29, and removed change areas 22 and 14.

Trustees were also presented with grandfathering procedures to allow students to continue attending schools they currently attend, as well as their siblings who may attend the same school in the near future.

In addition, they were presented with recommendations for the future changes to several additional elementary attendance boundaries, which they left on the table after the committee determined more study of the areas was necessary. 

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