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School board president: A school will close

POULSBO — Since closing a school became a suggested reality in the North Kitsap School District, many alternatives were offered by the community.

There is no chance, however, that the North Kitsap School Board will not close a school, board President Dan Weedin said.

“At the risk of speaking for my colleagues, the answer to that is ‘no,’ ” Weedin said when asked if the board would scrap the decision to close a school.

Weedin recently toured Breidablik, Gordon and Wolfle elementaries, the three schools on the closure list. In common: each has three empty classrooms.

Though closing a school is difficult, “We’ve got to be more efficient with our facilities … If we don’t do it, we’re not doing our job,” Weedin said.

The possible closure of Breidablik is the subject of a study session and public hearing Thursday. The final study session and hearing, for Wolfle, is Feb. 20, 5:15-7 p.m. The school board will make a decision Feb. 28.

The nine empty classrooms are not the tipping point for Weedin, though.

About two hours before the regular board meeting Jan. 24, the five-member board found out the district’s reserve fund balance is below what it was previously thought to be. Board policy is to have reserves of 5 percent of the total budget. The reserve is about 2.7 percent. The board allowed the reserve to drop to 3 percent temporarily to help avoid further budget cuts.

“It was really nailed home,” Weedin said of the need to close a school.

The school board is considering closing a school because of declining school enrollment and declining revenue. District estimates on how much closing a school would save per year are between $300,000 and $500,000. The exact savings of a school closure are unknown, because a school has not been closed.

Alternatives to closing a school — such as closing the district office or closing and selling all the portable buildings — have been among the popular suggestions from the community. However, the cost savings from those alternatives alone would not come close to the expected savings from closing a school.

If the district closed many of its portables, for example, it would save about $112,000 annually in maintenance and custodial costs, according to district documents. Superintendent Patty Page said closing all the portables would save the district about $200,000. However, closing all portables is not completely feasible. Poulsbo Middle School uses portables for all its eighth-grade classes, Page said.

Closing the district office is a possibility in the future, Page said. If the board decides it would be a good time to put the building on the market, that would make sense, she said.

The board held its first of three study sessions and public hearings regarding closure Feb. 7. The board room was packed with advocates for keeping Gordon open, as the board had its first discussion on school closure since hearing the recommendations from the School Closure Committee Jan. 24.

Cost versus savings from closing a school was the common theme throughout the board’s comments during the study session. However, Weedin feels board members may have different priorities on what is important to look at when closing a school. “There are some common denominators, but I don’t think we’re all on the same page,” Weedin said.

Because there was not enough time to hear from everyone who signed up to speak during the public comment period Feb. 7, Weedin stayed after the hearing to listen to those that didn’t have a chance to speak. That same opportunity will be given, if needed, during the other hearings. By the third and final meeting, Weedin expects to have a better idea of which school he is leaning toward closing.

Closing a school is not the only step the district will take to save money, but it is a “big piece of the pie,” Page said. It will be up to the board to prioritize what cuts need to be made as the district faces a continuing decrease in revenue.

Having cut about $2.8 million from the 2012-13 budget, “we need to be fiscally sound in what we do on the long haul,” Page said.

 

 

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