UPDATE | Primary school shuts down for good this summer

LANGLEY — The primary school building on Maxwelton Road in Langley will be vacated and all classes, kindergarten through fifth grade, will be moved to the intermediate building by September 2009.

South Whidbey School District Superintendent Fred McCarthy announced the decision Wednesday.

“After reviewing the considerable work, data, meeting notes, position statements, e-mails and personal comments and taking into account the economic, demographic and school funding information, I chose Option 1,” he said.

McCarthy was given two alternatives by a committee formed to look at the use of facilities districtwide.

The first was to move as many classrooms into the intermediate school as possible over the summer. No school board approval was needed because it had already decided to OK the move.

The second option was similar, but included transferring the entire fifth grade to Langley Middle School. Board approval would have been needed for the adoption of that scenario.

“It was a difficult decision, but it has been made and now it’s time to move on to other challenges,” McCarthy said.

A committee will be set up to handle logistics so the whole process won’t fall to the elementary school staff.

The changes were necessary because of declining enrollment in the district. It’s a problem facing nearby school districts, as well, McCarthy noted.

“The Marysville School District is closing three schools and shutting down a pool. The current economic climate is shaping up as a defining moment for our country, and the district is determined to make the right decisions at the right time,” he said.

And challenges there are. District officials just learned that 16 children, in kindergarten through eighth grade, have left South End schools in January alone.

“We didn’t anticipate that,” said business manager Dan Poolman. “It doesn’t often happen that 16 kids would leave in the middle of the school year.”

The loss means the district will lose $86,000 in state funding.

“They went off-island or out of state, but we don’t know the reasons,” Poolman added. However, he suspects the downturn in the island’s economy may be a factor.

“We are tracking business closures and other vital signs that indicate a general trend,” he said.

Poolman has revised his estimate on enrollment for 2010. Previously, the district estimated there would be 113 fewer students in the next two years; that figure has risen to 143 for a net loss to the district of $770,000 in state funding.

McCarthy said it’s hard for parents sometimes to understand the relationship between loss of students and revenue.

The financial need is real, however.

Combined with reductions in federal dollars and loss of Initiative 728 money, the district faces a loss of $1.3 million this year in the budget, not counting increased costs due to overhead and salary adjustments.

This year, officials projected a total of 1,762, or 49 fewer children in local classrooms. Because the state provides $5,382 per student, the district expected a drop in revenue of $258,000. That number may be revised upward as the year continues.

State money provides 71.2 percent of school funding. Local tax dollars provide 22.8 percent, while the federal government adds 5.7 percent.

The fusion of the two buildings into the South Whidbey Elementary School has been on the table since January 2007 when a facilities committee recommended the closure in response to declining enrollment.

The school district has been reluctant to sell the primary school, built on 34 acres in 1968, in case there is a reversal in enrollment numbers in the years to come.

Officials have explored leasing space to community organizations such as Island County Senior Services, the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District and Skagit Valley College in hopes of generating a revenue stream from the empty classrooms.

Those discussions will now accelerate.

In the meantime, the elementary school will be located on the intermediate campus, while Whidbey Island Academy’s 64 students will remain in a specific set of rooms on the primary campus.

Additional consolidation, downsizing and efficiency moves will be discussed in the sixth annual community forum. The forum is 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 25 at South Whidbey High School.

The next school board meeting is 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 25 at the elementary school commons room on Maxwelton Road in Langley.

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