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Langley Middle School supporters want school board to give consolidation another look

Sixth-graders Maddie Barker and Sanna Bjork protest the closing of Langley Middle School this past weekend on Camano Avenue in Langley. - Brian Kelly / The Record
Sixth-graders Maddie Barker and Sanna Bjork protest the closing of Langley Middle School this past weekend on Camano Avenue in Langley.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

A crowd of more than 50 students, parents and teachers marched through town Sunday and rallied on the steps of Langley Middle School to protest the closure of the historic school.

Organizers said the demonstration was necessary because middle school staff has lost faith in the administration of the school district. They say district officials appear to be reneging on a promise to preserve programs when Langley Middle School moves to the campus at South Whidbey High School as part of a consolidation effort that’s expected to wrap up by late 2012.

LMS supporters are hoping the district will stop to reconsider the move, and take a fresh look at other consolidation options.

“We realize now that the only way to save middle school programs is to save the site,” said Kent Ratekin, a teacher at LMS.

Ratekin said it appears certain that District Superintendent Fred McCarthy will propose moving the sixth grade to the primary school, and moving the seventh and eighth grades to the high school, when McCarthy makes his recommendation on a bond measure to the school board on Wednesday.

The option became public at last week’s school board meeting, when teachers recounted a staff meeting with McCarthy late last month during which he told the LMS staff of his impending proposal. McCarthy was out of the country on a trip and did not attend the meeting.

McCarthy is expected to present his bond recommendation at a school board workshop tonight. District officials have been considering a bond measure that would pay for the consolidation effort, made necessary by plummeting enrollment and evaporating state funding for

schools. Early estimates of the bond proposal range from $25.8 million to $32.7 million.

Ratekin said it was clear to the staff that McCarthy’s proposal was not a trial balloon.

“He said to us, ‘You all smiled at me coming in today, but nobody is going to smile at me after this meeting, because you are not going to like what I am about to say,’” Ratekin recalled.

Moving the sixth grade to the primary school and creating a 7-12 grade configuration “basically eliminates any kind of middle school program,” Ratekin added.

“What the board promised us last summer was to keep the integrity and identity of the middle school in the consolidation move,” Ratekin said. “We believed them, and we all worked diligently on the bell schedule and consolidation committees, and Dr. McCarthy just threw it all out the window in one meeting.”

Ratekin and other teachers called the plan flawed.

“McCarthy’s decision ... to eliminate the middle school and create a 7-12 high school in just one year is a bad plan for kids,” Ratekin said.

Students will lose essential parts of the middle school program, he said, such as shop, art and cooking classes and other electives. The jazz band and other clubs and activities will be in peril, and under McCarthy’s proposal, sixth-graders would be separated from all other buildings and programs when they are sent to a wing of the primary school, Ratekin added.

Rocco Gianni, a teacher at LMS, said the 12-to-14 age group is unique, and middle school students need a special curriculum and teachers who understand that developmental phase. They won’t get that as part of a 7-12 program.

“We are all tuned in to the needs of those kids,” Gianni said.

“If I need brain surgery, I want the brain surgeon, I don’t want the dermatologist doing it,” he said.

LMS teachers and others are asking the school district to form a “think tank” or committee that could re-evaluate the closing of LMS now that more information has been gathered about the costs of consolidation and the possible impacts of moving students to facilities on Maxwelton Road.

They also want the district to consider other ways to save money, rather than closing LMS.

“Between 1 and 2 percent of the budget is saved by closing this school. That’s $250,000 out of $17 million,” Ratekin said.

“That isn’t the only way to save that 1 or 2 percent. You can save that 1 or 2 percent by closing the primary school, by consolidating WIA (Whidbey Island Academy) and Bayview. The transportation and lunch programs have been losing a lot of money.”

“We have not really torn into all the creative ways that you could save $250,000 in this district,” he said. “We’re just asking, can we examine this a little deeper? Look at the data more objectively. Examine all the true costs, both in the programs and in the different scenarios that could result in the same savings.”

Sunday’s rally lasted nearly an hour; it started with a demonstration on Camano Avenue near the middle school, then marchers descended downtown and made their way up and down Second and First streets, weaving their way through the tourist crowd in town for Langley’s Mystery Weekend.

Maddie Barker, a sixth-grader, carried a sign that said “Rethink restructure.”

She said she worried about going to class in a school crammed with kids, or getting lost in the crowd or pushed around by older students.

“It would be kind of overwhelming,” she said.

“If we’re all crammed in there … there’s no space, whatsoever,” added fellow sixth-grader Roslyn Schoeler. “And here, there’s a lot of space. And it’s a really nice school. I mean, we have three gyms.”

“We’re not going to have as many things there as we have here,” she said.

The school board will meet at 6:30 p.m. tonight in the community room at the elementary school on Maxwelton Road.

The superintendent’s recommendation on a bond proposal will be followed by a question-and-answer session with the board and community.

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