By Kaitlin Manry, Herald Writer
MARYSVILLE — To save money in a tough economy, the Marysville School Board is considering closing schools, shuttering a popular swimming pool, laying off staff and slashing programs.
The school board needs to save $3.3 million and may close Liberty, Cascade or Tulalip elementary schools beginning in fall of 2010. The swimming pool at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, which is used by both students and community groups, also could be on the chopping block.
“There are going to be very difficult decisions ahead that have to be made,” Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland said. “If we don’t make decisions around closures, there will be equally difficult decisions we need to look at and consider around staffing, maintenance of schools, purchase of instructional materials and activity programs for kids.”
If the state budget picture worsens, the cuts could grow, Nyland said.
The national economic downturn and declining enrollment are largely to blame for the district’s budget problems. After years of growth, enrollment in Marysville has declined by 1 percent each of the last two years, Nyland said. Because school funding is based on student numbers, when enrollment drops, so does a district’s budget.
The district’s enrollment is now about 12,000. The schools being considered for closure each have roughly 200 to 600 students.
“It is dire,” school board President Michael Kundu said. “It’s not just our district, but many districts across the state are in a state of emergency as far as our funding is concerned. Here in Marysville that means we have to make some decisions. Every option needs to be on the table.”
Marysville isn’t alone in facing declining enrollment. In Edmonds, the school board already decided to close one elementary and is considering closing another. Oak Harbor closed a school two years ago, and in Seattle, the fight over school closures has been raging for weeks.
Parents, teachers and taxpayers in Marysville are asking tough questions in meetings with Nyland. All three schools have lots of devoted supporters.
“Why are we talking about closing a school that is a neighborhood school?” asked Robin Duffy, co-president of the Liberty Elementary PTA. “My family cannot afford a vehicle for me to drive my child to parent-teacher conferences, so we walk.”
She would like the school board to delay making any cuts and wait to see if the economy improves. The school board is considering asking voters to approve a bond in 2010 that could fund several construction projects, including renovations or the construction of new Liberty and Cascade elementaries and Marysville-Pilchuck High School.
Even if voters approve a bond, state law requires bond money be spent on construction, not operating expenses.
Marysville has opened several new schools in the last few years, including Grove Elementary and a new high school campus made almost entirely of modular buildings. A new high school, Marysville Getchell, is scheduled to open in 2010. The district built the schools for a combination of reasons, including deteriorating buildings, overcrowding and growth projections that turned out to be wrong.
The Marysville School District doesn’t have enough savings to get it through a tough year and the school board must act quickly, Nyland said.
The district tries to keep around $3 million in the bank each year, which equals around 3 percent of the total budget. That savings will disappear if changes aren’t made soon, Nyland said.
“If it were to go lower, we’d have to borrow money to meet payroll,” Nyland said.
Closing an elementary school would save about $400,000 a year. Closing the pool at Marysville-Pilchuck High School would save about $250,000.
The pool opened in the ’70s, and the school board has considered closing it several times over the years, but public outcry has helped keep it open.
This time, if the pool is going to remain open, the people who use it will probably need to pay more, said Randy LeValley, chairman of the board of directors for the Mighty Marlins Swim Club, which is based at the pool.
Three years ago, necessary cutbacks were somewhat easy, he said.
“This year, I don’t know how we’re going to do it,” LeValley said. “There’s so much to be cut and not many programs left to cut from.”
A committee studying the issue should have its recommendations ready in a few months. The school board may decide as early as this fall to cut programs or close schools in the 2010-11 academic year.
The board is encouraging people to share their thoughts.
“As you can imagine, it is not easy for anyone to think of this school being closed,” Liberty Elementary Principal Scott Irwin said. “I think we’re at a very difficult place.”
Herald Writer Eric Stevick contributed to this story.
Reporter Kaitlin Manry: 425-339-3292 or firstname.lastname@example.org.