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School board: More time needed for school closure decision

Breidablik Elementary School interim principal Glen Robbins high-fives third-grader Elliot Nettlebeck as students arrive for school, Thursday. A district committee is studying whether to close an elementary school to stave off a budget deficit. On April 10, Breidablik topped the list of choices in a survey.  - Kipp Robertson/ Herald
Breidablik Elementary School interim principal Glen Robbins high-fives third-grader Elliot Nettlebeck as students arrive for school, Thursday. A district committee is studying whether to close an elementary school to stave off a budget deficit. On April 10, Breidablik topped the list of choices in a survey.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson/ Herald

HERALD STAFF

POULSBO — Dan Weedin is not sure closing a school is the right choice to help reduce the North Kitsap School District's budget deficit. In fact, the school board member is not sure it will ever be the right choice.

Weedin's feelings echoed a few on the board Thursday during the school board meeting. It is also why the majority of school board members present -- Tom Anderson, Kathleen Dassel and Weedin -- decided to push back the decision to close a school, instead of making a decision by May 24. Director Bill Webb was for closing a school for the 2012-13 school year. Scott Henden was absent.

With a school closure postponed, the district will now look at a reduction in force in an effort to avoid a deficit next school year. The district sent out this email Friday:

"The majority of board members agreed that they will not consider a school closure for the 2012-13 school year, but may for 2013-14. The board was split on whether or not the focus should remain on closing only an elementary school. Some board members indicated that they thought all options should be studied now that there is more time. The School Closure Committee will provide a final report of their work this year to the board at the May 24 meeting. The committee will continue meeting during the 2012-13 school year.

"Now that the board has eliminated the option of closing a school next year, they will be studying other budget reduction options. A study session is scheduled for Thursday, April 19 from 5-7 p.m. at the District Office to discuss a Reduction in Force (RIF) before the May 15 deadline."

The board's decision — it was not a vote — reflects the work of the School Closure Committee. Members of the committee expressed feelings of concern with the hasty timeline the board had to make the decision to close a school, about four months.

Though it is unlikely a school will close for next school year, information from the committee does show the direction it could head in the future. Work with the committee will continue. No decision has been made.

As of now, most School Closure Committee members say Breidablik Elementary School should be closed if a school closed for the 2013-14 school year, with students distributed evenly to all schools and new attendance boundaries developed.

Superintendent Rick Jones called a recent survey of committee members “a pulse check,” and was adamant Thursday that the survey results are not a recommendation.

“They only did that for me, knowing it was not going to be a recommendation to the board. They all know they can change their mind,” he said. “The pulse checks are not votes. They’re a way of gathering the current thinking of a committee of 30 people. The committee members, in completing this anonymous survey, clearly recognize that this exercise is not a recommendation to the board. We still have work to do. The committee is giving the board an update. They’re not ready to give a recommendation to the board.”

Closing the school is expected to save the North Kitsap School District $700,000 a year. The district is trying to avoid a $1.4 million deficit.

The School Closure Committee — comprised of community members, educators and school district support staff — met for the fifth time April 10. It is charged with studying the possibility of  school closure. The committee was to provide a report to the school board by the beginning of April.

The board will provide the community with the opportunity to provide feedback before a final decision is made, district spokeswoman Robyn Chastain wrote online.

School closure is a big issue awaiting new superintendent Patty Page, who succeeds Jones on July 1. She said in an earlier interview that closing a school will require some healing to be done.

Committee member Lael Stock said she empathizes with Breidablik parents.

“I feel their pain. The parents have bought into the school. They’ve made the cupcakes, they’ve volunteered there, they feel they’re making a difference, and now they’re being moved somewhere else and it’s not their choice,” Stock said.

Because of the school’s location, between Poulsbo and Kingston, Stock believes it has always been an “easy target.” The school has been one of the most affected by new schools opening, such as Kingston High School,  and boundary changes, she said.

“I think there’s probably some justified resentment,” Stock said.

By most accounts, the Breidablik community is close knit with a proud history. The community draws its name from Norse mythology, the name of the heavenly home of the god Baldr. “There is not in heaven a fairer dwelling,” an ancient poet wrote.

Breidablik is bordered by Lofall to the north, Highway 3 to the east, Poulsbo to the south, and Hood Canal to the west. The neighborhood has a Baptist church, a community cemetery, and a horse farm that teaches English and Western riding.

Breidablik has 308 students with room for 142 more. Of the three closest schools, Poulsbo Elementary, four miles away, has a head count of 450 with room for 125 more; Wolfle Elementary, also four miles away, has 332 students with room for 93 more; Vinland Elementary, two miles away, has 436 students with room for 189 more.

Of the other schools, Pearson Elementary has 318 students with room for 82 more, Suquamish Elementary has 414 students with room for 86 more, Gordon Elementary has 453 students with room for 125 more.

How they voted

At the April 10 meeting, committee members were asked to complete an anonymous survey and the results were presented.

To the question, “Should an elementary school be closed?,” 22 voted yes, five no, and three were undecided.

To the question, “Which school?,” 19 voted Breidablik, two voted Pearson, one voted Wolfle, and one was Undecided.

To the question, “Which year?,” 18 voted 2013-14, 11 voted 2012-13, and one was Undecided.

To the question about the model of student distribution, 17 voted for the so-called “Cascade Model,” in which students from the closed school are distributed evenly to all schools and new boundary lines are developed. Two voted for a “Targeted Model,” where students from the closed school are distributed to select schools. Nine voted for a combination of the two, according to the district.

A combination model was not discussed by the entire committee, according to committee members.

The School Closure Committee has met five times since Feb. 7. For documents related to those meetings, visit www.nkschools.org and click on School Closure Committee Update under “Headlines.”

The committee meets in the district office board room; meetings are open to the public. The next meetings are April 23, May 1, May 15, June 5, and June 19, all at 6 p.m.

Jones believes the school board will need to make a decision on a closure no later than its second May meeting.

The school board will make the final decision on a school closure. The committee is a “recommending body only,” Jones said. “It is completely the board’s decision.”

District will not hire new principal

Glen Robbins was hired as interim principal of Breidablik following the departure of Lynn Jorgenson.

On Wednesday, Jones confirmed through Chastain the district will not hire a principal until a decision is made on whether a school is closed.

“If a school is going to be closed, we won’t need seven elementary principals,” Chastain wrote in an email.

 

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