Budget squeeze may close beloved Trafton school

ARLINGTON — One of the state’s oldest schools could close for good this summer if the Arlington School Board can’t find a way to keep the doors open.

Trafton School was established in 1888, a year before Washington achieved statehood.

Rebuilt after a fire in 1912, the classic two-story building features huge windows, high ceilings, walk-in closets and an old school bell on its roof. The school is listed on the state Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places and is considered the oldest continuously operating small school in Washington.

School district officials anticipate a $2.4 million shortfall in funding from the state during the next school year and are looking for places to cut the district’s budget. By closing the school, the district could save about $300,000 a year, district officials estimated.

Trafton Elementary has been on the table before, but this time the possibility of a closure seems more likely.

“Trafton, along with other buildings and programs, is under review due to lower enrollment, repair needs and the extra room we have for students in our other schools,” district spokeswoman Misti Gilman said. “People expressed surprise when Trafton was on the cutting board last year, but this year more people are unemployed, the economy is still a mess and they understand the situation better.”

Beloved by generations of alumni, the school is the focal point of the Trafton community northeast of Arlington. Its busy Parent-Teacher group draws hundreds of people from throughout the Arlington area to the annual Trafton Fair every September.

Parents choose to send their children to Trafton Elementary because of its small, close-knit atmosphere and its devoted staff, parent Kelly Roundy said.

The school serves 135 students, in kindergarten through fifth grade, from about 70 families, she said.

“We’re all in the same economic boat, so we get it. We get why Trafton is on the cutting board,” Roundy said. “But we’ll do whatever it takes to keep it open.”

Arlington School Superintendent Kristine McDuffy recently met with staff and parents of Trafton Elementary about the possibility of closing the school.

During her annual state-of-the-district presentation last week, McDuffy said Arlington schools are experiencing the largest drop in state revenue that people in the district can remember.

Trafton Elementary’s second-grade teacher, Todd McLaughlin, calls the budgetary problems “a terrible situation.”

“Trafton has such history. One of my students is a fifth-generation Trafton kid,” McLaughlin said. “We support our school board, but we still hope Trafton can stay open for another 100 years. The real problem is in Olympia, because the state is not adequately funding schools.”

Arlington School District’s staff of 582 serves about 5,436 students at 10 schools. The alternative program at Weston High School also is being considered for closure.

Eagle Creek Elementary School several miles away in Arlington is about 200 students below its capacity and could easily take in the staff and students from Trafton.

While Trafton Elementary School parents and staff don’t complain, the school needs replacement of its portable rooms, updates to the main building’s heating, plumbing and electrical systems, new outside stairs, and restroom, roof and bell tower repairs.

The estimated cost of necessary repairs and improvements is about $850,000. Putting a bond request before the voters is not an option in the current economy, Gilman said.

“No decisions have been made about Trafton Elementary School, but every budget line item is being reviewed and operational costs at every school building being examined,” Gilman said. “Somehow we made it through the cuts last year. It was tough, and this year it won’t be any easier. We are working hard to keep our public informed and get their comments.”

Any decisions about school closures won’t be made final until August.

Trafton Principal Ed Aylesworth is a Trafton School grad. He understands the emotions of staff and parents and the pride they have in the school.

“But we can’t let what might happen keep us from moving forward with the education of our children,” Aylesworth said. “We have to work together and see what happens. I remain optimistic.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

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