‘Our schools are full’

Overcrowding demands boundary changes in Bethel School District

Bethel has been experiencing a population boom in the last decade, including 717 new students who have joined us in the last two years alone.

“We last opened up a school in 2009,” said Superintendent Tom Seigel. “Our schools are full.”

With all the new construction in our community, Seigel expects to be adding students at a rate of 300 a year for the next decade.

A Boundary Review Committee convened this week, crowded shoulder to shoulder in the boardroom as if in solidarity with the Bethel students packed into overcrowded classrooms. The committee is tasked with easing that overcrowding by creating new school boundaries, which will be implemented next year.

The committee consists of parents from every school in the district, as well as principals from all 27 Bethel schools. District administrators and two school board members were also present, but are not voting members of the committee.

“It’s a reality check,” said School Board President John Manning. “It’s a fact of life that we have to do this, and it’s best to involve everybody that this is going to impact. There’s just no easy way around it, and it’s best to get the information out there sooner rather than later.”

The exploding student population in Bethel has demanded 201 portable classrooms, which are now housing 5,000 of our students. That is so many portables that the district is nearly out of space to put them.

Only four elementary schools still have room to add new portables, and they’re in the “wrong place,” meaning they are not situated where our community is growing the fastest.

Meaning, a boundary change is needed now.

“The last couple of times we did this, we had new schools coming on line,” said Assistant Superintendent David Hammond. “This time, we don’t.”

Voters have failed three bond attempts in the last three years that would have built new schools and renovated and expanded old ones. Without the money from a passed School Construction Bond, there isn’t a ready-made solution. That’s why the task before the Boundary Committee is so critical.

The biggest outlier on the horizon is whether the November School Construction Bond will pass the state’s required 60% supermajority or not. Hammond said If the bond passes, the first new building wouldn’t come online until 2021. “We can’t hold our breath until then,” he said. “If the bond passes, that doesn’t mean our work is done.”

At this first meeting, the committee heard from principals who described the current conditions in their over-crowded schools.

The goal of Boundary Review Committee is to come up with some potential boundary revisions that are feasible and financially responsible. The impact on student achievement will also be considered.

This will be a fast-moving committee. They will meet a number of times before making their recommendations to the School Board in December. Members are also encouraged to reach out to their school community to gather input from other parents and staff members.

The community will be notified of the new boundary changes by February 1, 2019.

The next meeting of the Boundary Review Committee is scheduled for October 30. The meeting is open to the public. More information is available here.

Helping kids learn is the driving force behind all we do in the Bethel School District.

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