7 city schools face closure

Closing seven Seattle Public Schools buildings, relocating several programs and eliminating five others in the fall could save money and balance enrollment, Seattle School Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson told the School Board Tuesday night.

 

District officials have said for months that closures and relocations are necessary to make the best use of the district\'s limited resources. Enrollment imbalances have left some schools packed with students and others struggling to survive.

\"We understand people don\'t want schools to close; we don\'t either,\" Goodloe-Johnson said. \"But the brutal fact is we don\'t have a choice.\"

The superintendent stressed that the proposal is preliminary and could be altered in coming weeks to reflect the public\'s concerns.

Under the plan, the seven buildings that house the following schools would close: Pathfinder K-8; Lowell Elementary; Nova Alternative High School; Alternative School #1; T.T. Minor Elementary; Van Asselt Elementary; and the Secondary Bilingual Orientation Center.

Five programs would be discontinued: African American Academy, AS#1, Arbor Heights Elementary, Meany Middle School and T.T. Minor Elementary. Among Goodloe-Johnson\'s other proposals: close or relocate six alternative programs, split the elementary-level Accelerated Progress Program between two schools, create a new elementary school in northeast Seattle and move northeast Seattle\'s Summit K-12 to operate individually out of Rainier Beach High School in southeast Seattle.

Goodloe-Johnson has the authority to make program placement decisions, but closures would have to be approved by the board. The board\'s vote on these recommendations is planned for late January. Community meetings will be Dec. 4 and 6, and public hearings are scheduled for mid-December.

Previous rounds of Seattle school closures in 1988 and 2006 sparked numerous protests and a few unsuccessful lawsuits, and the latest proposal is likely to be controversial, too. Even before the official list was released Tuesday evening, rumors prompted some parents and school communities to organize campaigns and \"save our school\" Web sites.

Students attending discontinued programs would be reassigned to other schools in their cluster, and would learn their assignments before open enrollment in March. If they don\'t want to attend the assigned school, they could apply for a new one during open enrollment.

District staff members analyzed several options for Summit, although moving it into a currently closed building was not one. Putting a school such as Summit in the Rainier Beach High building isn\'t ideal, the report accompanying the proposal said, but putting the two schools in the same building will provide Summit high-schoolers with a wider variety of courses.

Also, both schools have arts-focused programs and could take advantage of the performing arts center at Rainier Beach.

\"We recognize that currently 70 percent of the Summit K-12 students live in the north part of the district,\" the report notes. \"However, as an all-city draw program that brings in new students every year, we cannot base the location of the program on the current students.\"

But board members were cool to the move Tuesday night. They asked questions about transportation costs, potential safety issues and the fact that the majority of Summit\'s students come from the North End.

\"How many of those students are going to move with the program, to Rainier Beach?\" board member Peter Maier asked.

But board member Mary Bass said the lack of students in South Seattle schools had to be addressed.

The hope for SBOC\'s move to Meany is that the location is more accessible. According to the report, the move would allow the school to collaborate with Nova, which would share space with SBOC in the Meany building.

Board member Harium Martin-Morris was one of several who expressed concern about redistribution around schools such as Meany and Lowell.

\"When I look at this list ... it just seems like a lot of turmoil,\" he said, as the crowd applauded.\"

About discontinuing the AS#1 program, the report acknowledged the community\'s desire to keep it and the Pinehurst building where it\'s located. But the Pinehurst building is small and in poor condition, and even considering the small number of AS#1 students who take the WASL, scores are fairly low.

\"In these times of fiscal need, we cannot continue to maintain a declining, expensive program in a small building with a low building condition,\" the report said.

No traditional high schools are slated to close, despite some seriously underenrolled high school buildings in southeast Seattle. A few members, including board Vice President Michael DeBell, questioned that.

\"We are in very desperate financial straits, and we know that our greatest savings are going to be at the high school level,\" he said. \"It\'s a trade-off between teachers and operating facilities.\"

Building condition, academic performance and per-pupil costs were major factors in determining closures and relocations.

The district did offer rough estimates of savings -- between $300,000 and $600,000 for an elementary school, $400,000- $800,000 for a K-8, $600,000- $1.2 million for a middle school, and $1 million to $1.8 million for a high school.

More specific estimates on short-term costs and long-term savings weren\'t available Tuesday.

Closures are expected to save the district money in the long term, though not nearly enough to resolve its anticipated $24 million shortfall in its 2009-10 budget. That deficit could grow to more than $44 million if the state withholds Initiative 728 money because of the economic downturn. The initiative, aimed at reducing class size, was passed in 2000.