South Whidbey School District directors are expected to vote on the long discussed closure of the Langley Middle School tonight.
The board is set to meet and vote on the issue at its regularly scheduled board meeting at 6:30 p.m. at South Whidbey Elementary School.
If the school is closed as anticipated, it remains unclear how the facility might be used in the future. South Whidbey School District Superintendent Jo Moccia adamantly declined to give details on future plans for the middle school in an interview Monday morning, asking why The Record couldn’t wait until after the vote to write a story that addressed future uses of the school.
“After the decision is made, I’ll be happy to provide any and all information,” Moccia said. “I want the board to make this decision before we start talking about future use.”
Moccia’s refusal is somewhat confusing considering a January newsletter penned by Moccia said the middle school may be used as a “community center.” The newsletter also said that the middle school will be home to the Island County Historical Society.
Rick Castellano, executive director of the Island County Historical Society, said the organization is working with the school district to archive historical materials, such as class photos, housed in the middle school. The historical society, which has an office in the district’s old administration building next door to the middle school, is also planning to open a research center named Langley Archive and Research Center (LARC) where the archived records will become available to the public.
“As we digitize all this information, it becomes more accessible to the public,” Castellano said. “…I think it’s a great opportunity for partnership on our part. We’re just excited about being able to make the history of Island County available to more people.”
Langley city officials said they have not had any discussions with the school district regarding possible usages of the middle school.
A spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction said a closed building can be used however the district sees fit.
“It can be rented, leased out, left empty or used for different purposes,” said Nathan Olson, director of communications.”
Tonight’s meeting will cap a nine-month-long community process that began in May and centered on consolidation in the school district.
During a series of community meetings held during the fall of 2016, it became clear the district was looking to close a school in order to save operation costs of around a half million dollars by September 2017 so it could comply with a school board policy that requires it to end with a positive fund balance of around $998,000.
The middle school is the district’s most expensive building and its closure would save $321,996, school officials report.
If the board opts not to close the middle school, the district will be forced to cut 10 teachers from its staff. The salaries and benefits of the district’s staff make up 85 percent of the district’s budget.
Two options for how students will be shuffled around the school district are being considered. The first option would shift grades 6-8 to the high school, while the elementary school (K-5) would remain the same. The second option would move grades 7 and 8 to the high school and send sixth-graders to the elementary school.
The potential decision to close the middle school is one that has loomed for years and been a source of controversy. In 2012, the school board voted to close the middle school, but later rescinded its decision.
In nearly all of the community meetings, parents and teachers voiced their disapproval of the potential decision and cited a wide variety of concerns, such as the intermixing of middle school and high school students, a lack of space for physical education and a loss of middle school culture.
In Moccia’s newsletter, she touted a list of positives of moving seventh and eighth graders to the high school and sixth graders to the elementary school. They include more opportunities for physical education at the K-6 level, access to tennis courts for 7-12 students, a unified band leader, a full-time art teacher for the K-6 program, shorter bus rides for all students and opportunities for middle school students to take high school classes taught by high school teachers.
Board directors have previously stated in interviews with The Record that they value teachers and would not like to lose any. Board directors have also said that if the middle school does close, they do not anticipate it being sold because of its historical and sentimental value in the community.