School boundaries plan riles parents

Multimillion-dollar budgets breeze through with little public notice.

New textbooks are adopted without a quibble.

Changing elementary school boundaries? Them’s fighting words.

This time, the Arlington School District is on the hot seat as it tries to balance uneven enrollment growth now to avoid lopsided school sizes later.

Michael V. Martina / The Herald

Presidents Elementary School teacher Sarah Cofer leads a second-grade class during a measuring activity at the Arlington school. Some parents with children at the school are upset because the district is considering shifting elementary school boundaries, which would force about 140 students out of Presidents and into Eagle Creek Elementary School.

The Marysville and Everett school districts, which recently passed bonds that include new elementary schools, will face the same issue common to all growing suburban communities.

Boundary changes, particularly at elementary schools, are often emotional, said Dan Steele, a Washington State School Directors Association lobbyist.

“If you ever want to fill the room, we say talk about one of two things – firing the football coach or changing school district boundaries,” Steele said.

Arlington filled the commons at Presidents Elementary School last week in a meeting about changing school boundaries. More than 100 parents, many wearing red T-shirts with black PTA lettering, attended an informational session. Many urged the district to reconsider.

The proposal calls for 140 Presidents students to attend Eagle Creek Elementary School and 67 students from Pioneer Elementary School to go to Presidents. Kent Prairie, where a housing boom is expected, and rural Trafton elementary schools would not be affected.

Parents from Presidents were ardent and organized, saying they don’t want to uproot their children and send them to Eagle Creek. The schools have similar demographics and test scores. The issue, many said, is about disrupting established relationships among both children and parents, who have become a tight-knit PTA.

When Andrea Tombros looks at the district’s color-coded map of proposed elementary boundaries, it reminds her of Chinese checkers where rows of yellow marbles are strategically moved to green and green to blue.

What’s lost is the impact on families, she said.

She has three children, including a second-grader who would be forced to change schools.

“He’s not someone who makes friends easily,” she said. “Once he is settled in there, I want him to stay there. It’s really disruptive.”

The school district is in transition. A second middle school opens next fall, providing relief to Post Middle School, which is overcrowded by 100 students. At the same time, sixth-grade students from elementary schools will be moved to the middle schools, freeing up space.

If you want to share your thoughts

Arlington School District residents with concerns about proposed elementary school boundary changes can meet with the school board at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the Arlington High School commons, 18821 Crown Ridge Blvd., Arlington.

The district expects increased enrollment in the neighborhoods surrounding Presidents, Pioneer and Kent Prairie elementary schools, but much slower growth around Eagle Creek.

By redrawing boundaries, the district can brace for the future so no school is jammed while another is underused, said Linda Byrnes, the district’s superintendent.

“This had to come forward now because we have this imbalance staring at us,” she said.

The district is open to other options, but the decision rests with the school board, she said.

Among other things, the board could choose to delay its boundary decision, phase changes in over time or allow variances for students to attend their original school, Byrnes said.

Tiffany Littlefield wants the district to take its time and worries her kindergartner could be forced to switch schools.

She said she hopes district leaders can sense there’s “a very strong community of parents that has poured themselves into the school and has chosen the school very deliberately.”

When Erik Youngquist’s family moved, he made sure it remained in President’s attendance boundaries. His third-grade daughter would remain at Presidents under the proposal, but could find herself feeling lonely.

“You expect that when you are growing up some kids will move away, but you don’t expect all your friends to move away at the same time,” Youngquist said.

Reporter Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446 or

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