Unanimous vote to close Breidablik Elementary School | Slideshow

POULSBO — The North Kitsap School Board voted unanimously Thursday to close Breidablik Elementary School.

The board voted 10 months ago to close a school and, in the ensuing months, a committee of administrators, educators, school parents and residents met to study data and make a closure recommendation to the school board. In four public hearings over the past month, the board listened to public testimony as to why a school, or schools, should not close.

The process culminated in the school board's 5-0 vote, in the North Kitsap High School commons. School board members, in a special meeting Wednesday, said the decision would not be an easy one.

“Usually I’m a positive person, but I’m sick to my stomach,” board President Dan Weedin said Wednesday. “This will bother me for a while. This personally hurts. And I’m not asking you to feel sorry for me, but we are humans too, and this is a really hard decision.”

After the vote Thursday, Weedin said that after the third public hearing on school closure he knew he would vote to close Breidablik. The biggest factor for him: The cost of maintenance and repairs if the school were kept open. He said Breidablik students will likely filter to Vinland or Wolfle elementaries.

The school board met Wednesday to give residents a final opportunity to speak on the issue of closing a school: Either Breidablik, Gordon or Wolfle. 

Joe Davalos, superintendent of the Suquamish Tribe’s Education Department and a former 28-year employee of the district, asked the board to keep all schools open. Davalos’ children attended Breidablik Elementary and his wife still works there.

“To see [Breidablik] boarded up … that would be a shame,” he said during the final public hearing Wednesday in the Poulsbo Middle School Gymnasium. Breidablik, Gordon and Wolfle elementary schools were on the chopping block. Supporters of all three schools showed up during the final hearing.

Nick Jewett, executive director of Kingston’s Village Green Foundation, co-chaired the 2001 levy campaign that brought the district $60 million — and an additional $40 million from a grant and matching funds. He said that campaign was successful because it reflected what the community wanted. The Kingston schools — Gordon and Wolfle elementaries, Kingston Middle School and Kingston High School — are successful because they work with each other, he said. The success of students at one school is the result of the work of previous schools had done.

“It’s in the best interest to keep both schools open,” he said.

Closing a school and consolidating resources is the only answer to the district’s current financial situation, board director Bill Webb said after public comment Wednesday.

“I respectfully disagree we shouldn’t close a school,” Webb said.

The rest of the board weighed in as well.

Director Kenneth Ames, who moved his children from school to school when they were growing up, knows how difficult closing a school be. He said the amount of support for schools in the district “opened my eyes” to the amount of volunteers, community partnerships and strength in teaching.

Director Tom Anderson, elected to the board in 2005, said there was growth in the district when he first started. Poulsbo had a significant number of housing developments in the planning stages. The board was looking at building another school in the area.

“What gives me a lot of hope, for whatever is done, is we’ve got an awesome teaching staff … all kinds of programs working well at schools, which can be melded together as we move on. And we certainly have to move on.”

Board Vice President Scott Henden compared the disappointment of closing a school to watching his son lose at the Mat Classic, the state wrestling tournament, Feb. 16. His son, he said, had a shot. The family was disappointed in the loss. It was an emotional thing, Henden said.

“We’ll be disappointed for a while, but we’ll get over it,” he said.

Thursday, he said he would have voted to close Wolfle Elementary School but didn't want to go against the board. 

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. Administrators expected 5,979 students for 2012-13. Student enrollment could drop by more than 100 students for the 2013-14 school year. Enrollment is expected to continue to decrease for the foreseeable future.

The district receives more than $6,000 per student from the state, and more from federal and other sources — an average of $5,200 per student from state funding alone.

Each of the three schools on the list have three classrooms not being used for basic education. Some classrooms are used for other programs and tutoring.

Breidablik and Wolfle were both constructed in 1989. Gordon was built in 1994. None of the schools have been renovated. Breidablik and Wolfle became eligible for state-assisted renovation in 2009.

As of October 2012, Breidablik had 298 students, Gordon had 426 students and Wolfle had 319 students.

The majority of the savings in a school closure comes from cutting one principal, office manager and custodial staff — a little less than $300,000. Other, smaller savings come from reduction in utility-usage and maintenance.

One-time costs to close a school are expected to be between about $20,000 and $30,000. Those costs include relocating staff.

Wolfle is expected to have the most significant enrollment increase in the next few years out of the three schools — one of the most significant increases of all seven elementary schools.

Breidablik has the highest average scores in state tests.

Next: The school district will adjust school boundaries. Those boundary adjustments could affect students at several schools.

Weedin and Superintendent Patty Page said they would visit Breidablik the next day. And according to the Breidablik Elementary School PTSA Facebook page, interim principal Gary Stebbins and other staff members “will be hosting a light breakfast in the library tomorrow morning for parents. You may come to ask questions, chat, or just to get a free meal.”

Weedin said selling the district offices on Caldart Avenue in Poulsbo – a former NIKE missile site -- and moving to Breidablik is an option, but selling the district offices will take some time.

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