Explaining the Snohomish County school shuffle

For years, Snohomish County saw a school building boom that continued even after the last of the baby boom generation graduated.

Population growth moved north and east across the county, and the baby boomers had children of their own.

New elementaries, middle schools and high schools opened all over the map, including Glacier Peak and Marysville Getchell high schools just in the past few years.

Now, however, the trend could be changing. Since 2009 several school districts have closed or are considering closing five schools throughout the county.

Does that mean that there are fewer students in the county? No — actual enrollment in Snohomish County has grown during the past seven years, from about 127,000 in 2003-2004 to about 130,000 in 2009-2010. Current enrollment is about 129,000, according to statistics from the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Officials say that the school closures were prompted by declining populations of students in the neighborhoods around the schools.

Edmonds School District

In the case of school closures in the Edmonds School District, the number of children in parts of south Snohomish County has declined dramatically. The general population is aging, there are few housing starts and many neighborhoods have a low percentage of school-age kids, said district spokeswoman DJ Jakala.

When Evergreen Elementary in Mountlake Terrace and Woodway Elementary in Edmonds closed in June 2009, each school had enrollments of fewer than 250 kids. In the northeast section of the school district, Martha Lake Elementary has more than 600 students.

Looking back, Edmonds School District officials say they believe they made the right decision to close Evergreen and Woodway. The district’s enrollment has declined from 21,520 in 2004 to 20,600 in 2010.

The closures have saved the district an estimated $3 million in operating expenses — utilities, maintenance, security, insurance — over the current and 2009-2010 school years.

Andy Simonsen’s two kids, now in grades two and five, were moved from Evergreen Elementary to Mountlake Terrace Elementary, where they are doing well.

“The district worked hard to prepare students, staff and parents for the change,” he said. “Still it was hard on most people. Fast forward to today, and it was definitely the right decision. It wasn’t just about the kids at Evergreen or Woodway. The district had to think about the welfare of the entire district.”

Penny Seible teaches fourth grade at Mountlake Terrace Elementary School. She had been at Evergreen for 20 years, about half the life of the school building.

“The closure was a bummer. For the Evergreen students now at Terrace, most of them have adjusted because the staff here was totally welcoming,” Seible said. “Yet, it still doesn’t feel like a community school for the kids. They have a long way to travel.”

Now Evergreen is being demolished and the Edmonds School District plans to lease the land there for commercial use. At Woodway Elementary, part of the building is being leased to a private school, Jakala said.

Arlington

Trafton Elementary School in the Arlington School District was shuttered in June for an estimated savings of $258,000 this year, district spokeswoman Andrea Conley said. The district’s population had declined by about 150 students from a high of 5,650 in 2007. Most of the Trafton’s 135 students now attend other schools in Arlington.

Trafton — established in 1888 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places — is no longer the oldest continuously operating small public school in the state. Despite cuts to state funding and declining enrollment in the district, Trafton Elementary’s closure was fought with great emotion by students, parents, teachers and community members.

Arlington Superintendent Kris McDuffy said the district’s staff and faculty have done their best to make the former Trafton students welcome at schools such as Eagle Creek Elementary.

Robin Price said she and her fifth grade son like his teacher and principal at Eagle Creek.

“But it’s been a rough transition for my son,” Price said. “The 135 kids at Trafton were like a big family. Now he’s at a school with 500 other kids. It’s a big pond with a popularity pecking order. He’s overwhelmed.”

For now, the Arlington School Board is thinking about opening Trafton as a community center to allow people to use the beloved building, McDuffy said.

Monroe

The Monroe School Board voted in February to close Monroe Middle School next year and transfer those students to Park Place and Hidden River middle schools.

Monroe’s total student population has grown steadily over the past few years, but declining enrollment at Monroe Middle and limited facilities there to offer elective curriculum were cited as the main reasons for the closure. The building is set to be used as the site for alternative programs such as the Sky Valley Education Center.

The school district expects to save $2 million with the middle school closure and consolidation.

Beginning next year, students graduating from Maltby and Fryelands elementaries will attend Hidden River Middle School. Those at Chain Lake, Frank Wagner and Salem Woods elementary schools will attend Park Place Middle. Families have the option to request transfers to schools outside their neighborhood’s attendance area.

Marysville

The Marysville School District is considering selling Tulalip Elementary to the Tulalip Tribes and moving students at the school most likely to Quil Ceda Elementary about six miles away.

Marysville Superintendent Larry Nyland said the tribes are interested in taking over the Tulalip Elementary campus for use as an early childhood education center.

The land where the school sits would return to the tribe for $1 and then the school building would be sold to the tribal government.

If and when it that happens, Tulalip Elementary students most likely would relocate to Quil Ceda Elementary, which like Tulalip Elementary also is on the reservation. The district estimates a savings of $400,000 a year in operational costs should the school district and Tulalip Tribes strike a deal.

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

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