Fight begins to save schools in Marysville

MARYSVILLE — Save our schools.

That was a message parents delivered in droves to Marysville School District leaders at a planning committee meeting Thursday night.

Parent after parent made the case to protect their children’s schools from closure.

The Marysville School Board is scheduled to decide on Tuesday whether to begin the process of closing schools. Any school closure would not take effect until fall of 2010.

The school board is considering closing Liberty, Cascade or Tulalip elementary schools to save money and deal with dwindling enrollment. The board also may shut the popular swimming pool at Marysville-Pilchuck High School, which is used by students and community groups.

Also at risk is the Marysville Cooperative Education Program, an option program housed at Quil Ceda Elementary School.

The district needs to cut $3.3 million — or 3 percent of its budget.

“I don’t want there to be any school closure,” said Wendie Jones, a mom from the Marysville Cooperative Education Program. “The reality is we might have to close one. …We don’t want to see anyone displaced, but we don’t want to be displaced either.”

Although the Citizens Planning Committee was scheduled to spend most of its meeting discussing a possible bond measure, about 70 Marysville residents wanted to talk about possible closures.

Committee member Doug Leonard said he would rather see the school board slash programs than shutter schools.

“The last thing we want to do is close a school,” said Leonard, the father of three students who attend Pinewood Elementary School. “That’s a last resort.”

Closing a school would save around $400,000 a year, according to district estimates. That accounts for an administrator, a counselor, two secretaries and some custodial and utility costs. Closing the pool would save about $250,000 annually.

The district’s budget problems stem from the national recession and declining enrollment. After years of growth, enrollment in Marysville has declined by 1 percent each of the last two years, Superintendent Larry 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

If the board votes to close a school, several programs will also likely be shuffled to new buildings. The district’s elementary co-op may move from Quil Ceda Elementary to Liberty Elementary, the Marysville Secondary Campus or to the site of Marysville’s alternative high school. Those programs, in turn would move to new locations.

“We truly understand the district needs to move and shuffle students around to save money,” said Hank Palmer, a fifth-grade teacher at the parent cooperative. “That’s why we said tonight we are open to moving. The Liberty community feels we have been after their school and we never suggested that.”

Around 73 percent of Liberty students qualify for free or reduced lunch because their families earn low incomes. That’s double the district average.

Some Liberty parents accuse the school district of trying to close Liberty to protect programs and schools that serve wealthier families.

“It would be a tragedy to close the school,” said John Westfall, whose children went to Liberty. “Liberty is a melting pot of ethnic children, middle-class children and poor children. We all get the same great start on 10th Street.”

Board members say they’re considering closing Liberty because it was built in 1951, is one of the oldest schools in the district and needs extensive remodeling.

With Tulalip Elementary, the board is considering combining the school with Quil Ceda Elementary or selling the school, which is on the Tulalip Reservation, to the Tulalip Tribes.

As the school board contemplates closing schools, it is also considering asking voters to approve a bond in February 2010. That bond may allow the district to renovate or replace Marysville-Pilchuck High School, replace Cascade and Liberty elementaries and build a new middle school, most likely to replace Marysville Middle School.

Even if voters approve a bond, state law requires bond money be spent on construction, not operating expenses.

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.

If the school board votes next week to begin the process of closing at least school, a final decision would be expected in June.

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