With dwindling enrollment and budget shortfalls, a new Task Force studies elementary school closure

Saturday, February 10, 2024

Assistant Superintendent Brian Shultz gets into the data (literally) with the Capacity and Closure task force at a recent Tuesday night meeting. Photo by Oliver Moffat

By Oliver Moffat

At its peak in 1959, Shoreline High School enrolled 1,900 students; but, due to dwindling enrollment and budget shortfalls the home of the Spartans was shut down in 1986.

On a recent Tuesday night, more than twenty parents, members of the community and school district staff gathered in the former school building to take on the difficult and possibly painful task of identifying which elementary school the district might close in 2025.

Once home to three high schools, five junior highs and nineteen elementary schools with nearly 18,000 students at its peak, the Shoreline School District has shrunk to just over 9000 students and is once again facing budget shortfalls. 

Shoreline has a long history of closing schools dating back to the end of the baby boom more than fifty years ago. The last time Shoreline went through this painful process was in 2006 when the district shuttered North City Elementary and Sunset Elementary.

The district’s handling of the 2006 school closures led to controversy. But this time, the district is hoping increased transparency and community involvement will help avoid the kind of rancor that has been seen in other districts across the state that are closing schools as a result of declining enrollment.

The district has assembled a task force called the School Capacity Review and Closure Consideration (SCRCC) which met for the first time on Tuesday night, February 6, 2024. 

The task force is chartered only with the job of making a recommendation about which school to close and will meet monthly to study data before presenting a recommendation next fall to the school board. 

The final decision on whether to close a school and if so, which one, will be up to the elected School Board and Superintendent Dr. Susana Reyes. The board and superintendent are empowered to make decisions such as this entirely on their own without consulting the community. The closure decision and any new school boundaries should be finalized in time for Kindergarten open enrollment in January of 2025.

Thick binders filled with data were placed on the tables in front of each of the task force members and district employees presented detailed statistics at the Tuesday night meeting.

Assistant Superintendent Brian Schultz told the task force that prior to 2020 the district was considering reopening North City Elementary. However, by 2022, budget shortfalls caused the district to make sudden deep cuts that prompted an outpouring of emotions from staff and community last year. And budget cut negotiations in the Spring of 2023 led to distrust and acrimony.

School board policy requires the district to hold liquid savings of between 4-5% of budgeted expenses and is the district’s key indicator of financial health. 

A slide from a January 8 Budget Advisory Committee Meeting shows the Shoreline School District’s declining funds

According to data shared at the January 8 Budget Advisory Committee meeting, the unreserved fund has been in decline from nearly 18% for the 2015-16 school year to 1.4% for the 2023-24 budget. COVID relief funds during the 2020-21 school year temporarily buoyed the budget, but it became clear the budget was in crisis when the indicator fell to 2.6% for the 2021-22 year.

Also presented to the task force was a Demographer Report commissioned by the district. Although the population of King County is projected to continue to grow, the birth rate has been declining since 2016, according to that report. In Washington State, school funding is tied to enrollment and districts are limited in how much money they can raise in local levies.

The task force will also consider the physical condition of each of the aging buildings and could factor the costs of necessary future building upgrades into the decision.

Another factor the task force will be considering this time around that was not considered in previous closure decisions is race, equity and the impact a school closure has on families in the community. 

In comments at the December 5 School Board meeting, Shultz said, historically, school closures have disproportionately targeted the most impoverished communities with the greatest needs and families of color.

This time, the district plans to proactively engage with the community, not just members of the community that have the time and resources to sit on committees, by using affinity groups, community forums and surveys. The task force will be using a Race & Equity Impact Decision-Making Tool to interrupt biases and think more broadly about all the people in the community.

Parents and other members of the community are encouraged to get involved and stay informed. The Strategic Planning Coalition meets monthly to draft the district’s first strategic plan. The Budget Advisory Team (BAT) meets monthly and receives detailed presentations on the districts budget. Parents can join their school’s PTA. And the public can attend regular School Board Meetings.


Anonymous,  February 10, 2024 at 11:53 AM  

Close Meridian Park and let NE 175th be the dividing line for the students going to Echo Lake or Parkwood. I don't know if you've had the misfortune of driving through the area when school is opening or closing but it is a mess. The school is between Aurora and the I-5 so there is always traffic and speeding.

Anonymous,  February 11, 2024 at 7:43 AM  

Close Shoreline Center Administrative offices and relocate them to North City.

Anonymous,  February 12, 2024 at 4:10 PM  

How exactly would packing up and moving all the staff and infrastructure, computer networking, servers, the maintenance yard, furniture, equipment, fixtures, etc, etc, etc and all that cost, time and materials from point A (Shoreline Center) to point B (North City) save any money?

Anonymous,  February 17, 2024 at 9:37 AM  

North City has the networking etc. Shoreline Center could be sold for a fortune. That's how.

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