Peninsula School District begins redistricting process

Committee in early stages of drawing new boundaries to relieve overcrowding at elementaries

Staff writerApril 2, 2014 

The Peninsula School District’s redistricting committee has had two meetings and is only scratching the surface of the puzzle that lies ahead.

It’s not at the point where lines are being drawn, but the committee is gathering data to consider how to help overcrowded schools like Purdy Elementary.

Monte Bridges, who is facilitating the discussions, said the meetings have been productive so far. A large group, about 80 to 90 people, signed up to participate. Of them, there is a smaller “working” group, he said.

The meetings include both the working group and others who want to provide input.

“As we develop each meeting, we have time for the larger group to be included in discussions, and there’s time for the working group to be working on specific questions and conversations,” said Karen Andersen, the district’s chief financial officer.

The committee is working on two recommendations to the board, all contingent on the upcoming August election. One accounts for a school in Gig Harbor North, and one doesn’t.

Andersen said that, since redistricting is a long process, the committee wants to be flexible with changing funding options.

“Rather than going back to the drawing board (after the election), we need to work on this with two outcomes,” she said.

The first meeting focused on committee organization and a discussion about the process. The group dug into the data during its second meeting.

Derek Young, a former Gig Harbor City Council member and a candidate for Pierce County Council, is on the committee as an at-large member. Young doesn’t have children, but he has a niece who attends Purdy Elementary, so he’s aware of overcrowding issues.

The next meeting, which will be held Thursday, will be for “data sharing,” Bridges said. The committee will begin to look at maps and different scenarios. Along the way, it will consider population areas and overcrowding problems.

“We’re kind of in a fact-finding mode right now,” Bridges said.

The data comes from various places, including the U.S. Census. It’s available for those outside the committee. The last meeting was all about historic data, Andersen said; for example, information from the 2010 census.

Richard Miller, a science teacher at Key Peninsula Middle School, is helping with the data, Andersen said.

It’s a serendipitous partnership. Before he taught in the district, Miller worked with mapping and analysis for clients such as medical companies.

Bridges is working as the facilitator because district officials felt a neutral voice was needed. Bridges said the work often can get emotional because of what schools mean to families in the area. His role is to facilitate and help stakeholders find solutions for crowded schools.

“We wanted to bring Monte in because he’s a neutral person,” Andersen said. “His role is to make sure the meetings stay on track, and we are moving to a common goal.”

So far, Bridges said he’s impressed with how well the group is clicking. He thinks things will get interesting after a few more meetings.

Eventually, the committee will be tasked with using the information to draw new school boundaries. Soon, the meetings will focus on the implications of the data, as well as solutions.

The committee will meet from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the district office, 14015 62nd Ave. NW, Gig Harbor.

Karen Miller: 253-358-4155 Twitter: @gateway_karen

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