Seven plans on the table for schools

In the beginning, when the school district first unveiled its plan to restructure South Whidbey schools to meet a mounting budget crisis, there were just two options.

Now there are seven, if you count District Superintendent Fred McCarthy’s last offering before the board on June 25.

The goal is to save $1.85 million out of next year’s budget, not quite 11 percent of the district’s annual $17 million budget. When school begins on South Whidbey on Sept. 8, the district will have 137 fewer students than the year just ended, resulting in a loss of $800,000 from the state. Officials predict more enrollment troubles in the years ahead.

The changing demographics of fewer younger families moving to Whidbey has dramatically affected the district’s ability to maintain five separate buildings. McCarthy believes the trend will continue.

The biggest concern by parents and staff revolves around the future of Langley Middle School. McCarthy and most board members want to close it and move operations to the high school by 2010.

Closing LMS will save $498,000 in operating costs per year. Savings on curriculum reductions, transportation and other efficiencies will save $600,000. The district has determined it will save $300,000 by consolidating the primary and intermediate schools. Maintenance and food service operations will be contracted, a further saving of $302,000.

A total of $1.3 million in savings comes from already-announced personnel cuts.

The district expects to ask voters for a continuation of its present levy as well as a bond measure in February 2010.

“If we don’t make these fundamental changes, I don’t think we can expect the support from the community to provide the bonds and levies required to upgrade our buildings and maintain a high degree of excellent education,” McCarthy said.

The first two configurations, Plans A and B, were in the superintendent’s original presentation back in May.

Plan A keeps the elementary grades at kindergarten through fifth, grades six and seven in the middle school, eight and nine in a newly-formed junior high and the top grades at the high school. His second idea was to combine all grades six through

12 at the high school, a plan that would minimize transitions between schools and maximize the SWHS campus.

Both configurations involved closing LMS.

Starting in May, the board held a number of workshops, allowing parents and staff the chance to weigh in on the two plans and propose alternatives.

And they did.

First up was parent Donna Riley.

Her proposal, Plan C, harked back to the 2008 facility committee’s minority report, that would keep part of the primary school open for kindergartners, Whidbey Island Academy’s home-schoolers and the district service center. The plan encouraged sixth-graders and below to be at the elementary level, and everyone else at SWHS.

Riley said the LMS gyms, shops and auditorium could be left in service and the remaining vacant classrooms be utilized by other community organizations such as Skagit Valley College or the park district.

Another parent, Kris Barker, recommended in Plan D that LMS be fully renovated — at an estimated cost of $5 million to $7 million — to serve all students, kindergarten through seventh or eighth grade.

“I feel that LMS offers some unique opportunities for the district,” she said. “The benefits include reducing the number of school sites, the ability to close and lease the primary and intermediate buildings, and it lightens the bus schedule.”

By far, the most extensive concept was submitted by the middle school staff. This proposal calls for the schools and community — parents, teachers, the park district, arts community and civic leaders — to work collaboratively to keep LMS at least partly open.

Basically, Plan E suggests closing the primary school completely, consolidating the alternative schools (Bayview School and WIA) into one building, moving the district office to the high school, closing two little-used buildings at LMS and encouraging voters to pass a bond in February to remodel or build a separate school near the high school for LMS students exclusively.

Parent Margo Jerome submitted Plan F, which recommended housing middle and high school students in the same building, but at different times, creating a double-shift where each classroom would have two teachers; middle school in the morning, high school in the afternoon.

The plan stated that a double shift separates young and older kids. Further, it allows economies of scale since all students would be in a single building — bus runs, food service, administration and maintenance costs would be lower.

Though it doesn’t have a designation, McCarthy’s final thoughts to the board echoed other plans, but has the weight of his position behind it. McCarthy took elements from each plan and boiled them down to the one he feels best solves the district’s budget crisis.

The plan calls for LMS to be shut down. The sixth- through eighth-grade students and teachers would be moved to the high school by the summer of 2010. The district would actively pursue alternate uses for the middle school campus.

The district offices would relocate to the primary school and join Whidbey Island Academy there. The primary and intermediate schools would continue their consolidation into South Whidbey Elementary School.

The empty portables behind the high school that formerly housed home-schoolers would be refurbished, at minimal cost.

Bus transport would reflect a single start and end time for all schools, which would be located on Maxwelton Road. More drivers would be needed, though their hours will be cut, reflecting a single daily run.

There would be administrative staffing reductions as well.

McCarthy proposes one principal to be hired for both the high and middle schools, assisted by an assistant principal/athletic director at the high school and one teacher-director at the middle school.

There would be a single principal in the elementary building. An assistant would also act as a special-projects director for grant writing, the highly-capable program and student counseling.

Bayview School would remain in operation for the time being, though declining enrollment puts the 100-year-old structure’s future in doubt. One director would guide all alternative school programs.

The number of librarians and counselors would drop as well.

McCarthy and the school board will continue to entertain opposing views right to the end. The final decision comes at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, July 22 at the elementary school community room on Maxwelton Road.

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