merriman park elementaryBy the time RISD Superintendent Dr. Kay Waggoner called for a vote at the end of the 3-hour meeting at last night at Merriman Park Elementary, the message was clear. The MPE community isn’t ready to move forward with the district proposal to build 4-6 classrooms on the MPE campus. Though the straw poll wasn’t binding upon RISD trustees, attendees voted to table the project and seek more information.

The MPE cafeteria was filled with school parents (past, present and future), neighborhood residents, MPE teachers and folks from other schools, interested in MPE decisions which would affect their campus.

Similar informational meetings were held last week at White Rock and Wallace Elementary, where proposals to add permanent classrooms were met with a more favorable response. WRE and Wallace already face significant overcrowding, and – though many say they are sad to lose the “small, neighborhood schoolhouse” feel – most appreciate the need to reduce class size and find new space. Parents have been unable to join their kids for lunch in the too-full lunchroom, guidance counselors office in broom closets and classes meet onstage.

The need for new classrooms at MPE, WRE and Wallace are the result of what RISD reps called the “regreening” of Lake Highlands – the regeneration that occurs when empty nesters sell their homes to young families. Apartments in LH are full – 96.3% rented. The growth LH is experiencing and demographers are projecting is from couples with young children moving in. Six new classrooms opened this fall at Forest Lane and 5 at Skyview; 4 opened last fall at Aikin, 6 at Stults; ten will open next fall at Forest Meadow. Schools in LH need space.

So why doesn’t RISD build a new school? That would involve drawing new boundary lines, and no one wants to be torn away from their traditional school, especially if they intentionally purchased a home with that campus in mind. Why can’t all sixth graders move to the junior highs? The JH buildings are becoming crowded, and will be even more so as these young children become teens. What about portables? Besides being unpopular with parents, RISD says they have made a conscious effort to eliminate them due to security issues. That leaves adding on to existing campuses.

The current strength of MPE, argued several enthusiastic members of MPE Dad’s Club, rising to speak in defense of keeping the campus at its present size, is the result of years of work on the part of parents, recruiting friends and neighbors to move into MPE’s attendance zone and enroll their kids in public school. Enlarging the school for a third time, they said, (the building has been expanded twice previously), will have a negative impact on the school, the students and the neighborhood.

Dr. Waggoner strongly stressed that no decision had yet been made, and she apologized for the difficult position MPE’s new principal, Katie Kirkpatrick, wedged between RISD’s proposal and MPE parents’ clear opposition.

Follow-up info meetings will be held at WRE Monday, Oct. 21 at 6 p.m. and at MPE on Wednesday, Oct. 23. The RISD trustee vote has been postponed until Oct. 30.