MONROE — Almost half the classrooms at Monroe Middle School are empty.
The noise between classes from the school’s 430 students seems loud enough. But only 18 classrooms at the former high school are used. Another dozen stand empty. So do rows of lockers that line the hallway.
District enrollment is dropping, this year by 50 students. That translates into a loss of $250,000 in state funding.
Dwindling enrollment “is more pronounced in middle schools, but the decline has been overall,” district spokeswoman Rosemary O’Neil said. The 7,847-student district also is facing a projected budget deficit, as are most school districts in the state, due to funding cuts. This year the state took back $500,000.
To help make up for the losses, district officials are weighing their options. One of those is to fill under-populated schools and close down others.
The Monroe School Board on Monday held a public hearing to discuss consolidating middle school enrollment into two schools instead of three. At the hearing, eight people spoke to the board, the majority in favor of consolidation.
The school district would save $2 million in the next five years if the consolidation is approved. Savings will come from not hiring some full-time staff, such as a principal. For now, teachers’ jobs are not in jeopardy.
“The teachers will follow the students, but this could change (once) we see how many teachers are needed,” O’Neil said.
The district plans to use Monroe Middle for educational programs like the Sky Valley Education Center. The district spends $671,642 to lease a building to house the alternative education program.
Monroe’s middle schools are among the smallest in the county, Superintendent Ken Hoover said. Some of them are smaller than some elementary schools in the district. Consolidating the schools also allows the district to offer more electives, because there will be enough students to fill those courses.
Under the proposed consolidation plan, the students will transfer to the other two schools next school year. Park Place, at 1408 West Main St., could have its student population grow to 750. Hidden River, at 9224 Paradise Lake Road in Snohomish, can grow to 550 students.
Park Place, which could take the majority of students, is less than a mile away from Monroe Middle, at 351 Short Columbia St. Hidden River is almost nine miles away.
There will be more district discussions seeking ways to save money; the district needs to cut $2.1 million for next year.
Parent Steve Jensen on Monday said he had reservations about consolidation, but believes it is the right decision.
“After seeing the deplorable conditions at Monroe Middle School, I realize it’s not a right place to go to learn,” he told the board.
Kerry Boone served on a district task force that proposed several options for the board to consider. She likes that having more students in the consolidated middle schools would expand the number of electives students can take. Yet she worries that Park Place was not designed to hold the proposed increased student population and a vice principal would need to be hired.
The board is scheduled to make a decision at their Feb. 28 meeting.
There are four proposed attendance boundaries if the consolidation is approved. People can participate in this part of the process today during a 7 p.m. meeting at Fryelands Elementary School, 15286 Fryelands Blvd. SE.
Alejandro Dominguez: 425-339-3422; email@example.com.