Changes to Richland School Bond Measure?

RICHLAND -- Big changes could be coming to the Richland School bond measure.

After some harsh criticism from parents near Jefferson Elementary, the district is now going back to the drawing board.

"This is option #43 that we've evaluated," says School Board member Rick Donahoe.

It's been a constantly changing work in progress, as officials work to perfect the $98-million issue that will appear on the February ballot.

The school board held a rushed public meeting Thursday evening, to discuss possible changes mostly centered around Jefferson Elementary, where there are many high-need students.

Parent Peggy Pilger says, "Those unique needs have not been fully assessed. And we worry, in separating those kids out to larger schools, they'll get lost in the shuffle."

The current plan is to re-purpose Jefferson for the HomeLink program, then build four new elementary schools -- one would be in South Richland, and the others would be identical, replacing the Three Sisters elementary schools of Marcus Whitman, Lewis and Clark, and Sacajawea.

But after criticism from Jefferson parents, the district is now considering six new elementaries -- adding one at Belmont and another near White Bluffs.

They would all be smaller in size, but would allow Jefferson to remain 'as is.' And White Bluffs Elementary would eventually be transitioned into a second new middle school.

"I'm really in favor of neighborhood schools," says Jefferson mother Cassidi Gaul. "I want my kids to be recognized by the staff. I don't want to send my elementary aged kids to a school that has 800 children."

Pilger also agrees the district is paying attention to their concerns.

"It's a good meeting ground, of trying to get updates to all the various schools that really do need the updates, and also meeting the HomeLink folks' needs as well."

In both cases, the bond amount would stay the same. The district says it's making every effort to create a growth plan that satisfies everyone.

"We're purposely not going to jump and make a decision, snap and let's go. It's about the kids."

But time is running out. The board must finalize its plan by the end of December.

At Thursday night's special meeting, no one from the public was able to voice their opinion on the proposed changes.

But there will be a regular school board meeting next Tuesday, Nov. 13. The district tells Action News, they will stay until midnight, if necessary, to make sure everyone has a chance to speak up.