The Kemry family, including, from left, Daryl, Jayden, Sabrina and Tayla, on Sabrina's lap, of Milner, is among those who have been affected by the Steamboat Springs School District's full kindergarten and first-grade classes. Six-year-old Jayden, who attended Soda Creek Elementary School last year, will attend Hayden Valley Elementary School this year.

Photo by John F. Russell

The Kemry family, including, from left, Daryl, Jayden, Sabrina and Tayla, on Sabrina's lap, of Milner, is among those who have been affected by the Steamboat Springs School District's full kindergarten and first-grade classes. Six-year-old Jayden, who attended Soda Creek Elementary School last year, will attend Hayden Valley Elementary School this year.

Families are opposing school district policy

Class size rule could force some students out of Soda Creek elementary

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— Ian Andress wants to have the same first-grade teacher his big brother, Phillip, had last year at Soda Creek Elementary School.

But he probably won't get that chance.

During the last week of school, in early June, Ian's parents were called and told he wouldn't be able to attend the school next year. Instead, he would need to attend Hayden Valley Elementary School. It didn't matter that he was a kindergartner at Soda Creek last year or that his brother attends the school. The kindergarten and first-grade classes are full, and Ian and his family live in Milner, outside the Steamboat Springs School District.

Steamboat's inter-district choice policy allows out-of-district students to attend a Steamboat school if there is available space, but they have to apply every year. If a grade is full, a student could be turned away to attend the school in his or her district.

That's the case with Ian next year.

Ian's father, Pete Andress, told the Steamboat Springs School Board on June 15 that he and his wife both work in Steamboat Springs. He works at The Industrial Company and she works at Doak Walker Care Center.

Pete Andress said like many other families, his was "pushed around by the economy in Steamboat." He said they didn't want to move but were forced to move from their Steamboat home after their rent was raised significantly.

So they moved to Milner. And they would like their children to continue attending Steamboat schools, rather than one child in Steamboat and another in Hayden.

"You don't split up a family," Pete Andress said.

Similar situation

Parents of six other soon-to-be kindergartners and first-graders also were called earlier this month. Including Ian, five first-graders and two kindergartners were told they would have to attend elementary school in the district where they live.

Sabrina and Daryl Kemry face such a situation with their 6-year-old son, Jayden.

"When I had to tell him he couldn't go back to Steamboat, it got him emotional," Sabrina Kemry told board members, fighting off tears.

Kemry, who also works at Doak, said it's a convenience issue about getting Jayden to school and her 3-year-old daughter, Tayla, to preschool at Christian Heritage School every day. Daryl Kemry works as an equipment operator for the city.

Sabrina said she and Daryl each grew up in Steamboat and went through the school district and would like their children to have the same opportunity.

"We don't know anyone in Hayden," she said Wednesday. "I feel more comfortable with (Jayden) in Steamboat schools."

John Robson also grew up in Steamboat and attended the district's schools. He told board members he wants his young children, who are not yet to elementary school, to be able to choose where they go to school.

"When I was a kid, if you lived in Milner, you got to choose," he said. "Now, you're making the choice for them."

Robson said he thinks the district should allow kids to stay in the district once they've attended one of the schools, and students with siblings already in the district also should be admitted.

Policy issue

Preferential treatment is not given to students who've already attended the school, nor is it given to students with siblings in the district, according to the inter-district choice policy that was adopted in 1999 and revised in 2004.

A class size policy also is part of the issue. The district's policy at the elementary level dictates that no more than 19 students be assigned to one teacher. And it states there must be at least 10 students enrolled for another class to be created. That policy was adopted in 1983 and last amended in 2001.

Next year, there isn't room for five first-graders and two kindergartners. Between the district's two elementary schools, Soda Creek and Strawberry Park, there are seven first-grade classes and seven full-day kindergarten classes.

Superintendent Shalee Cunningham said the district considered adding additional classes - there is room in the 2009-10 budget, with about $100,000 not allocated that will be diverted to fund balance. But, she said last week, the district was out of classroom space.

"We'll invent space," School Board member John DeVincentis said toward the end of the June 15 meeting.

DeVincentis said he's always been a proponent of keeping classes small, but in this case, with only seven children affected by the policy, he was concerned about splitting up families.

"As a board, our integrity is on the line when we take kids into the district and kick them out," he said. "As a board member, I don't want people thinking I support what we're doing. :I don't need a policy to know what's fair to a 7-year-old."

Possible outcomes

Because the inter-district choice policy is administrative, Cunningham would be the one who could change it, she said Wednesday. She's gathering information to evaluate the policy and if she elects to amend it, she could form a committee to discuss it and make changes. Or, she could do nothing.

School Board President Robin Crossan said Wednesday that board members could discuss the issue at their Aug. 12 and 13 workshop, though that usually is reserved to outline the board's goals for the upcoming school year. The board's next regular meeting is Aug. 24.

Cunningham said the issue isn't final until the fall, when the district knows exactly how many children will be attending its schools.

"It may be moot," she said. "We may have plenty of room. You never know what's going to happen over the summer."

During Monday's meeting, Ian Andress' mother, Krista, asked the board to reconsider the policy. She said it was important to the city's working class that their children attend Steamboat schools.

"We just want to be part of the community," Krista Andress said. "We work and play here."

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