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Thursday, November 5, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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New Student-Assignment Plan Set -- Parents To Choose From Middle Schools In Their `Regions'

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

The Seattle School Board has approved a new assignment plan that changes the middle-school options for most of the district's students beginning next year and changes the way all school choices will be processed beginning in the 2000-01 school year.

The seven-member board also learned last night that changes made a year ago ending desegregation busing for elementary-school students have led to minority enrollments averaging 90 percent in Southeast Seattle, up from 87 percent last year.

In South Seattle, including Beacon Hill, minority enrollment rose 4 percentage points to an average of 84 percent, according to Geri Lim, the district's chief financial officer in a report to the board on enrollment trends. In contrast, the percentage of minority children enrolled in all North End schools dropped about 2.5 percentage points. For example, schools in Northwest and Northeast Seattle are 38 percent and 37 percent minority, respectively.

Overall, the district enrolls 59.4 percent minority children and 40.6 percent whites, a split that's been about the same for several years.

The options for voluntary integration haven't attracted many families, said Lim. "Only 19 students districtwide chose . . . integration-positive schools" outside the cluster of four to nine elementary schools closest to their homes. All 19 chose to be bused out of the South End, she said.

For next year, the new student assignment plan for middle- and high-school students continues the district's shift - begun last year for elementary schools - away from desegregation busing and toward neighborhood schools.

Under the plan, the city will be divided into five "regions" of two middle schools each. Students may apply to any middle school in the city, but transportation by school buses will be provided only to either of their two home-region schools.

Metro scrip will be given to students who enroll in out-of-region schools. Though she voted to allow scrip, board President Barbara Schaad-Lamphere said, "Metro tokens for middle school do not offer authentic choice" because many parents wouldn't want their children riding alone or transferring downtown.

Exception in Southeast Seattle

There's an exception for Southeast Seattle students. They'll get transportation to their regional schools - South Shore and Mercer - and to McClure on Queen Anne Hill, Meany in the Central Area and Hamilton in Wallingford. The board made the exception because Southeast Seattle parents complained that their regional schools are two of the weakest in the district and that they shouldn't be limited to those choices.

For the same reason - programs parents deemed weak at Madison and Denny middle schools in West Seattle - the board will allow West Seattle students in the Spectrum program for gifted children to be bused to Washington Middle School in the Central Area.

After amendments, only board member Ellen Roe voted against the new plan, saying that the board should do more to equalize the quality of all schools and thereby reduce transportation expense.

The new system replaces one based on desegregation busing which paired middle schools some distance apart, with some students assigned far from home.

Series of `tiebreakers'

If there's not enough space in a school for all the students who apply, admission will be determined by "tiebreakers." In order, the tiebreakers give preference to: students with siblings already in the school, residence in the region, "integration-positive" enrollment, program continuity (alternative-elementary-school students applying to alternative middle schools), distance from the school and, finally, lottery.

The high-school-enrollment system remains almost unchanged. There's still open enrollment with transportation provided by school bus or with scrip for Metro buses.

For practical reasons, a major change in how all student assignments are handled was delayed until the 2000-01 school year. Making the change will require completely reprogramming district computers.

The change, devised by board members Scott Barnhart and Nancy Waldman, will extend the district's "hold harmless" rule to all choices. Currently, when students apply to alternative schools, they don't lose their place in line for a regular school.

But, when students apply to popular regular schools and don't get in, the computer bumps them down the list until it finds a school with a vacancy - even though they may have siblings in their second-choice school or may live right across the street.

Barnhart and Waldman's system will ensure that more students get their real second choice and eliminate bumping down to lower and lower choices, which has discouraged parents and driven some to send their children to private schools, according to Waldman.

At last night's meeting, Waldman said that had happened to her.

Space wasn't available at her first-choice kindergarten, so her daughter was assigned to a school Waldman hadn't even listed. So, Waldman put her daughter in private school for three years.

The new middle-school pairings are: Northwest - Whitman and McClure; Northeast - Eckstein and Hamilton; Central - Meany and Washington; Southwest - Madison and Denny; Southeast - Mercer and Southshore.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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