Evan Thompson / The Record Lori O’Brien, a parent of two in the South Whidbey School District, discusses challenges associated with the potential closure of Langley Middle School at a community meeting on Wednesday night at South Whidbey High School.

Ongoing discussion moves toward Langley Middle School closure

All signs are pointing toward the closure of Langley Middle School.

It’s either that or nearly a dozen teachers will get the boot, school administrators said at a community meeting attended by about 60 people Wednesday night at South Whidbey High School. The South Whidbey School District must fulfill a school board policy which requires it to end with a positive fund balance of around $998,000. If the board decides to do nothing, there would be a fund balance of around $432,479 for the 2017-18 school year, roughly equivalent to the salaries of 10 teachers.

Closing the middle school — the district’s most expensive building — would save $321,996. Administrators face declining enrollment district-wide and receive less money in annual budgets due to the state’s funding model.

Under two proposed scenarios at a Nov. 2 community meeting, grades 6-8 would be shuffled around the district. One option would move sixth graders to the elementary school and send grades 7 and 8 to the high school. The other option would move grades 6-8 to the high school.

A third alternative of closing the primary school was considered, but deemed inviable, Superintendent Jo Moccia said. It would save only $59,884.

Board directors said they are more inclined to keep staff in follow up interviews with The Record. The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Jan. 11, 2017 at South Whidbey Elementary School for a public workshop to deliberate on what they learned from the community over the past eight months, followed by an official decision at a Jan. 25, 2017 meeting.

“It’s always our goal to not lose staff,” said Linda Racicot, board chairwoman. “We have veteran teachers who are highly experienced.”

Board Director Julie Hadden said teachers and their programs are the backbone of the district. If teachers are lost, the programs could leave with them.

“We have such a great school district and there’s so many great things on for us and we want to maintain that and keep the integrity of it,” Hadden said. “It’s an exceptional place. You lose teachers and things would look very different.”

Wednesday night’s meeting was the fourth and final community gathering, capping a seven-month-long process that began in May. The scenario of closing the middle school was reached by administrators using feedback and input from previous community meetings on May 18, Sept. 21, Oct. 5 and Nov. 2.

Anticipating challenges or questions that would come with closing the middle school were among the focuses on Dec. 7. Different bell schedules, the intermixing of middle school and high school aged students, physical education space and maintaining the middle school’s culture were all included during the input-gathering stage of the meeting.

For all the pros and cons of the potential closure compiled in previous community meetings, visit the district’s website at www.sw.wednet.edu/.

Lori O’Brien, who has a child in the fifth grade and another in the ninth grades, was accepting of the fact that the middle school will likely be closed. She thought the district may be able to find a way to keep the integrity of the middle school with a grade 6-8 wing at the high school.

“I think that the district really needs to look at the facilities not with who is certain place now but as a blank slate,” O’Brien said. “Really look at it and make sure there isn’t a way to have a middle school wing that would continue that school culture.”

Kymy Johnson, president of the elementary school’s parent teacher association and a parent of five enrolled in the district, said that while closing the middle school would sadden her because she was a former student in the district, she felt it was overall the best solution in terms of saving money and avoiding the cutting of teachers.

“Looking at all the things that they have the potential of being able to add, the opportunities, and the programs that they would potentially be able to keep that would otherwise be cut, is a big deal,” Johnson said.

Like previous meetings, some attendees were resistant to the potential change. The middle school is cherished for myriad reasons, including its sentimental values, strong physical education programs that includes boxing, rock climbing, roller blading and kayaking, and a myriad of other reasons, such as its close proximity to downtown Langley.

“I could get over not having the building if it didn’t affect the [physical education] programs,” said Kathy Gianni, a physical education and health teacher.

Others rallied behind the potential change.

“We’re going to weather this storm and we are going to be continue to be a great district because we have great teachers here,” said Mark Eager, a high school history teacher. “We’ve got great academics. I tell you what, I’m excited about the future no matter what it is.”

 

Evan Thompson / The Record Superintendent Jo Moccia speaks at South Whidbey School District’s community meeting on Wednesday night at South Whidbey High School.