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‘Equal isn’t always best’: Pasco adopts new high school boundaries


(The Center Square) – The Pasco School Board adopted a new high school boundary map this week that moves most low-income students to one of the district’s oldest facilities while opening a new school across town.

The decision to redistribute the district’s students was finalized on Tuesday after a 4-1 vote, following almost a year of debate over how to approach the issue. Various options were proposed, ultimately resulting in a choice that prioritized proximity over equity.

During the School Board meeting, district officials opted for Scenario D, which was the most cost-effective in terms of transportation but disproportionately split student demographics. Throughout the process, most participants reported valuing proximity over equity.

“Equity takes the cake for me,” said student board representative Kimberly Joya Manzanarez. “It is the teachers that we have and the classes that we get to take that shape us as students. It is the extracurriculars that we get to seize that shape us as students. I get to go to my top choice school because of the opportunities I seized, and I want that to be true for future Pasco High students.”

“I just want to say,” she continued, “that [opportunities] may be offered, but definitely not at the same level.”

As a result, most Hispanic students and those from low-income backgrounds will attend the PSD’s oldest facility, Pasco High School. In contrast, smaller portions of those groups will attend Chiawana High School, which opened in 2009, and the new Sageview High School, which will open in fall 2025.

Currently, the PHS student population identifies as 83% Hispanic, with 74% of the total coming from a low-income background. Tuesday’s decision will inflate the Hispanic population to 93%, with 86% of all students coming from low-income backgrounds.

Chiawana High School will have a Hispanic population comprising 63% of the total students, while 51% come from low-income backgrounds. Similarly, Sageview High School will have a Hispanic population of 62% of all students, with 54% coming from low-income backgrounds.

However, the decision will actually increase the number of students participating in accelerated pathways, like Advanced Placement, Running Start and College in the High School courses. Currently, 23.9% of PHS students participate, while CHS touts 28.6%; though, Scenario D projections take PHS to 24.6%, CHS to 34.2% and the new SHS to 29.6%.

Manzanarez disputed those figures, stating that while PHS may offer what looks like a lot of opportunities, it advertises more in the student handbook despite not allowing students to participate. She said the projections above are accurate but skewed in context.

“Offered doesn’t really mean offered,” she said. “The course handbook said so many courses were offered when I was a freshman, and you know, as a new freshman, I was really excited that I was going to be able to see so many opportunities only to be disappointed.”

In light of equity taking a back seat, School Board President Amy Phillips noted that the 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle Public Schools prevents the district from using ethnicity when reestablishing school boundaries.

Instead, the district relied on projections that noted while buses would drive further each day, the drivers would spend a combined total of 2.5 hours less taking the new routes. The other options would entail a similar distance but would take 11 to 19 hours of total driving among buses each day.

“Data states that high-poverty schools experience lower test scores, lower teacher retention, which ends up being lower teacher performance,” said Amanda Brown, vice president of the board and the only dissenting vote on Tuesday.

Brown’s statement finds some support in comparing PHS and CHS’s graduation rates and standardized testing scores, an issue that she thinks could be exacerbated in the future.

Several students, parents and other community members testified against the board’s decision, advocating for Scenario F, which was the most diverse in terms of demographics but also the most expensive when it came to transportation.

“Now, this is an opinion of mine,” said Jake Stueckle, PHS’s former principal, who presented the board with the options. “Equal isn’t always best.”

Stueckle compared the decision to a coach focusing on the best players instead of elevating newer or less advanced ones to the same level. He said Pasco’s playing field varies from school to school; there’s no way to ensure every student has the same opportunities.

“I’m not going to give my [kid] all the extra training or what have you when I have a struggling athlete over here,” he said sarcastically. “No, you play basketball by yourself [while my athlete] and I drill over here. Does that make sense?”