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School closure impacts will be felt districtwide

POULSBO — No matter which school is closed in the North Kitsap School District, the ramifications will be felt by everyone as school attendance boundaries are changed and staff and students are shuffled.

Though nobody wants to see their community’s elementary school closed, Gordon Elementary third-grade teacher Kelly Rosenbach said everyone needs to make the best of the situation.

“It’s not easy,” Rosenbach said Wednesday of the upcoming decision to close a school. “No one wants to do this, but we need to step forward positively and proactively and really support each other.”

Rosenbach was one of many to speak during the last school closure forum Wednesday night in the Poulsbo Middle School Gymnasium. The forum was led by Superintendent Patty Page.

The North Kitsap School Board will make its closure decision — or decisions — Feb. 28. Public hearings for the schools on the School Closure Committee’s list are scheduled for Feb. 7, 14 and 20. A public hearing before the board meeting Feb. 28 will be scheduled if needed.

Twenty-two members of the closure committee voted Tuesday night on which schools they prefer to close. Breidablik received the most votes, with 74. Gordon received 71, followed by Pearson, 63; Vinland, 48; Wolfle, 42; and Suquamish, 32. Poulsbo Elementary was removed from the list of potential closures earlier in the year.

Following votes on school closure, 19 of 22 committee members voted that the district’s administration building should be closed.

Though closing the admin building is an option, the savings would not be much more than the cost of utilities, Page said. The district has options if a school is closed, including selling the building, leasing the building or moving the district office into the school. Page said there is not much of a market for a school building right now.

The majority of savings in closing a school come from cuts in staffing. Having one less principal, one less office manager and fewer custodians, for example, will save the district more than closing a building and moving staff.

Staffing comprises 85 percent of the district’s budget. The other 15 percent covers costs such as utilities, maintenance and transportation. The 2012-13 budget is about $62 million. Eliminating a teaching position, for example, will save the district $80,000 — more than the $24,500 that is spent on utilities at Breidablik.

The district has the capacity to close two schools, Page said. If Pearson and Breidablik were closed, the remaining schools would still have room for 25, according to district documents. If Pearson and Wolfle Elementary closed, the remaining schools would still have room for 48.

At the elementary level, the district has room for more than 400 more students; and that’s not including portable buildings.

Because it is unknown what the board’s final decision will be, it is not known what school boundaries will look like. However, a student at one school could potentially be placed at another once attendance boundaries are adjusted.

All schools will be affected, Page said.

“Are people going to be shocked, yes,” Page said, adding that some people may be shocked to hear a school closed.

Page will give a school closure presentation Jan. 24 during the school board meeting.

Page expects to have an outline of which students will attend what schools by March, if the board decides to close a school.

Whether one or two schools are closed, Page said it is unknown if schools will be reopened. It two are closed, however, it is more likely one would reopen in the future.

As for special programs, such as Options or Vinland’s bilingual programs, the families currently involved will still have stake. If a student is moved out of his or her school’s or program’s attendance boundary, however, it will be up to that family to provide transportation.

Overall, the majority of families have their students attend the school within the boundaries they live, Page said.

The decision to close a school follows cuts that have been made to the district for years.

The district’s budget was cut by about $2.4 million by September 2012. Those cuts included reducing staff by 14.7 full-time equivalent positions. Staffing dropped from 369.95 positions to 355.25 positions.

The School Closure Committee was formed in early 2012 while Richard Jones was superintendent. No vote was needed by the school board. At the time, the elementary schools were 894 students below capacity — a number which remained similar for the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.

Closing a school was originally estimated to save the district $837,750 a year, according to a previous story in the Herald. That savings decreased, with newer estimates between $300,000 and $400,000. The decrease comes from the need to maintain the closed building(s) to a certain degree if the district keeps it. Utilities, such as heating, will remain in use if the district keeps the building. Page said she hopes to find another $100,000 in savings if a school is closed, but can’t make guarantees.

Rosenbach, has taught at Gordon since it opened — about 21 years — and at Pearson before that. She said all schools in the district have the potential to be the best. And instead of loyal parents fighting for their school, that loyalty can be transferred to “the greater good.”

See also Expected city growth won’t negatively affect NKSD

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