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North-enders advocate for school, again

POULSBO — The third public hearing on a proposed school closure brought in just as many community members as the first.

With the North Kitsap School Board room filled to capacity, and people listening from the lobby, advocates for Wolfle Elementary School made their case for why the school should not be closed, during a public hearing Wednesday.

Public speakers included teachers and staff members, school volunteers, and those who have a stake in the school.

Before the meeting, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Chairman Jeromy Sullivan said his grandfather told him Wolfle can’t close. All S’Klallam children have attended Wofle, Sullivan told the school board. Sullivan then outlined examples of how the Tribe and school have worked together — reading nights, summer school, helping build a culturally-relevant curriculum, and sharing Native art and music.

“The [S’Klallam] Tribe and Wolfle have built a bond … and shared experiences for multiple generations,” Sullivan said.

If Wolfle were to close, Sullivan said it could be more difficult for the Tribe to work as closely with another school.

The other schools on the closure list are Breidablik and Gordon.

Depending on which school the board decides to close, attendance boundaries will change. Superintendent Patty Page outlined where the majority of students would most likely attend with the three different school closure outcomes.

If Breidablik closes, students would be transferred to Vinland or Wolfle — and maybe a few to Poulsbo. If Wolfle closes, most students would go to Breidablik and Gordon. If Gordon closes, students would attend Wolfle or Suquamish.

The school board will make a decision on school closure Feb. 28 during the regular board meeting. The selected school will be closed beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

A special meeting at 6 p.m., Feb. 27 in the Poulsbo Middle School Gymnasium, 2003, NE Hostmark St., will give the public one last opportunity to comment on the school closure.

The decision to close a school follows a continued decrease in student enrollment in the district. The district began the 2012-13 year with 5,947.14 full-time equivalent students. Administration expected 5,979 students for 2012-13. Student enrollment could drop by more than 80 students for the 2013-14 school year. The district receives more than $6,000 per student from the state, and more from federal and other sources.

Third-grade teacher Nancy Meyer told the board Wolfle is expected to increase enrollment by up to 100 students within a few years.

“It would not make sense to close Wolfle due to enrollment projections,” she said.

The three schools on the closure list each have three empty classrooms. The district has the open student capacity to close a school.

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 in a previous interview.

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.

Public speakers during the hearing also spoke of Wolfle’s track record of having a high number of students from low-income housing, with continuing improvement in test scores.

Wolfle’s enrollment as of October 2012 was 319 students, according to district documents.

The number of students on free- or reduced-meals in May 2012 was 53 percent.

Richard Osborne, a volunteer at Wolfle, previously taught in Detroit. He said schools there with a high percentage of low-income students would almost guarantee a dropout rate of at least 40 percent.

Wolfle had an unexcused absence rate of .2 percent in 2011-12.

“You have an exceptional school outperforming,” Osborne said of expectations. “I expect this board … to make a rational decision base on visible criteria — why they did what they did.”

 

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