Seattle Schools Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson has proposed merging Rainier Beach and Cleveland high schools into Cleveland's building, and closing another elementary school in the south or southeast part of the city, bringing the number of possible school closures to nine.
The list of possible school closures in Seattle rose Wednesday from seven to nine.
At a School Board meeting, Superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson said district staff are considering whether to recommend merging Rainier Beach and Cleveland High schools into Cleveland’s building, and closing another elementary school in the south or southeast part of the city.
It was an unexpected addition to proposals that Goodloe-Johnson unveiled just last week to close seven buildings and move nine schools to new homes.
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The staff at Rainier Beach High heard the news about their school Wednesday afternoon.
Head counselor Dan Jurdy said he was “shocked and dismayed.”
“We’ve done everything the school district has asked us,” he said. “We’ve increased enrollment. We’ve increased academic performance. We’ve increased academic performance for students of color — that’s huge.”
The merger, he said, feels like a closure. “Come on,” he said. “They’re closing Rainier Beach. They’re closing us.”
Goodloe-Johnson will not finalize her recommendations until early January, but she said it didn’t make sense to wait to put the Cleveland-Rainier Beach merger and a few other ideas on the table.
The district, she said, is working under a tight timeline if it wants to close schools by September, and the state budget picture continues to get worse. District staff say it looks increasingly likely the district’s state funding could be cut as much as $20 million.
Goodloe-Johnson said she had thought the district could take another year to decide whether — and how — to close a high school.
But budget discussions in Olympia changed that.
“With the deficit getting larger, I feel we don’t really have that flexibility,” she said.
The other new options under evaluation:
• Moving Aki Kurose Middle School to the Rainier Beach building, where it would absorb some of the middle-school students from the African American Academy and Meany Middle (both proposed to close), and Summit K-12 students who live in the area, if Summit is closed.
• Changing the grade span at The New School, and/or closing another elementary school in that area.
• Ending the Summit K-12 program rather than moving it to Rainier Beach.
• Moving Pathfinder K-8, an alternative school in West Seattle, to Cooper Elementary rather than to Arbor Heights Elementary.
Many of these suggestions were in response to concerns board members raised last week after responding to the superintendent’s original proposal, which is designed to not just save money but strengthen the district’s academic offerings and give students in some neighborhoods better access to specialized programs.
Several board members, for example, asked staffers to reconsider closing a high school, given that the district estimates it has anywhere from 1,500 to 3,000 excess high-school seats.
The district has said it has roughly 9,000 more seats than students overall — although the staff stresses that is a rough estimate. The superintendent’s initial recommendation would have roughly reduced that by about 3,000 seats.
Many board members also asked staff to look at finding another home for Pathfinder rather than Arbor Heights, which is close to the South End and would displace many students who live close to that school.
The suggestion to close Summit K-12, however, will likely not sit well with board members who have lobbied to find a new home for that school in the city’s Central Area.
Goodloe-Johnson said Wednesday that closing Summit K-12 will save the substantial cost of busing students from all over the city, regardless of whether the school is in North or South Seattle. The suggestion of moving Aki Kurose into the Rainier Beach building also raised the question of where to move Summit.
School closures alone will not save nearly enough to fill the district’s budget gap, but they would help.
District staff estimate that the original proposal would save roughly $3.6 million a year. The district also is looking at reducing staff at the central office, a districtwide hiring freeze, reductions in bus transportation and more.
Some parents and others say the district should find ways to balance its budget other than closing schools. But Seattle has also long been criticized for having more buildings than it needs to house its 45,600 students, and three recent audits recommended the district should operate fewer schools to lower administrative and maintenance costs.
The board will make a final decision on any closures on Jan. 29. Members appear united in the desire to close some schools.
The question now, said board member Peter Maier, is “when and how and how many.”
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org