Trafton parents express frustration over possible school closure

  • Mon Aug 23rd, 2010 2:10pm
  • News

By Gale Fiege Herald Writer

ARLINGTON — Parents suing to keep Trafton Elementary School open still hope that they can send their kids there when school starts Sept. 8.

But the Arlington School District’s attorney told the court he won’t be available for any hearings until after the first day of school.

David Hokit, the Kent lawyer who represents the school district, said he is on a long-planned vacation for a family reunion. “There’s nothing sinister here. No delay tactics. Just vacation,” Hokit said.

Still, the timing of his absence seemed suspicious to some parents. Those involved in the lawsuit are scheduled to be in court Sept. 1 *

to ask a judge to keep the school open until the lawsuit is settled.

The parents say the school district is making it hard for a judge to rule in their favor. Despite the parent group’s appeal of the school board’s decision to close Trafton, the district already has moved all of the teachers’ supplies out of the school building.

“This makes it much more difficult to ask that the school be opened again,” Terri Forslof, who serves as spokeswoman for the parents group.

The Arlington School Board voted unanimously June 14 to shutter Trafton, a school that was established in 1888 and is listed on the state Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places. It was considered the oldest continually operating small public school in the state. About 135 students attended the school.

District officials said that decreased state funding created a budget deficit, and that the district stood to save more than $258,000 a year by not operating an elementary school at Trafton.

But during school board hearings, parents of Trafton students offered what they saw as clear evidence refuting the financial reasons to close Trafton, Forslof said.

The lawsuit to appeal the board’s decision was filed July 13 in Snohomish County Superior Court by five couples and three other individuals represented by Seattle lawyer Bridget Bourgette Shaw.

The parents’ complaint states that the board made its decision without complying with state requirements concerning school closures. Concerns about longer bus rides for children, especially during seasonal flooding of the Stillaguamish River, were listed. The lawsuit also says that the Trafton Elementary families are being harmed because their children will be sent to schools that fail to meet federally mandated targets for adequate yearly progress.

Eagle Creek Elementary, where most Trafton students are scheduled to go, is a school with many students from families whose second language is English, school officials have said.

After the parents’ lawuit was filed, the school district met its Aug. 2 deadline to file with the court any documents that were part of the board’s decision-making process.

“It wasn’t much more than we had seen before. Basically, we feel that board’s decision was unfair, biased and predetermined,” Forslof said. “The vote to close Trafton wasn’t properly thought out.”

At the heart of the problem for Trafton parents and their supporters is the fact that the school was closed for financial reasons, and those reasons don’t seem to exist anymore, Forslof said.

“We feel the district released misleading data in order to garner support from the public for closing the school,” Forslof said.

For most of the spring the district anticipated a $1.7 million deficit and began to look for ways to shave costs. Along with the closure of Trafton, the cuts included the layoffs of faculty and staff. The district’s budget for the coming school year is balanced now, with no revenue deficits.

Superintendent Kris McDuffy said she understands the frustration held by the Trafton parents. Actual revenues to school districts often do not become clear until the summer, she said.

In addition, the school board voted unanimously this month to raise the amount of funding from property taxes to 26 percent from 24 percent. In the last levy election, voters approved a lid of 30 percent funding from property taxes. With property values down currently, people won’t be paying any more than they did this year, McDuffy said.

Most of the extra $400,000 that will come to the district from the increased property tax will go to the district’s state-mandated emergency savings account.

For now, the district is just trying to get families settled for the coming school year, McDuffy said.

An open house in June at Eagle Creek Elementary was well attended, McDuffy said. About 40 families showed up for the event, she said. Another open house is set for Tuesday evening.

“Many people are just ready to move forward,” McDuffy said.

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

Learn more

An orientation for all new students at Eagle Creek Elementary School is set for 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, at the school, 1216 E. Fifth St.

Donations to the Trafton parents’ legal fund can be made at http://tinyurl.com/Trafton-School.

* Correction: This artical was corrected to change the date of the court hearing to Sept. 1.