Sunday, July 23, 2017 This Week's Paper

Wainwright, McKinley elementaries cut

// Tacoma School District moves forward with school closures

After weeks of public forums and deliberation, Tacoma School Board has chosen to close McKinley Elementary School on the East Side and Wainwright Elementary School in Fircrest next year.

Fueling the closures are state and federal cuts to education funding and dwindling district enrollment numbers. Tacoma School District is facing a nearly $23 million budget shortfall next year. The closure of both elementary schools will save the district more than $1 million next year.

The closures will shift students across the district. Some McKinley students will be moved to Lyon Elementary, and so will McKinley’s Principal Anita Roth. Some Blix students will move to Roosevelt Elementary during the student shift. Wainwright students will be assigned to DeLong Elementary. Students in Wainwright’s program for highly capable children, SAIL, will move to Point Defiance Elementary.

In addition, the closures will displace nearly 100 teachers across the district, according to district spokesman Dan Voelpel.

The district will be mailing letters to parents about the changes. Included in the letter will be information for parents about optional enrollment, which is limited by space available, he added.

“We understand people’s circumstances are going to vary,” Voelpel said. “We’re trying to be as accommodating to their needs as possible.”

Community members packed the board chambers May 12 to voice their disagreement with the decision. Stephanie Middleton, a mother of a Wainwright kindergartener and third-grader, was saddened by the board’s decision to close the school.

“My students have succeeded there like they have nowhere else,” she said, through tears. “It’s like asking my kids to go from the top of the food chain to the bottom.”

The board will continue working on stabilizing the district’s budget for the next few years, Board President Kurt Miller said during the meeting. State and other cuts will leave district budget shortfalls of $17.5 million in the 2012-13 school year and $16 million the following year, district officials said. The district has already begun downsizing to plug budget shortfalls. Last month, the board chose to spare Franklin Elementary from the chopping block, and instead chose to:

  • Cut more than nine administrative and operational positions – including executive secretary, two custodians and a painter – to save $2 million.
  • Pursue an increase to the elementary school class size ratio by one student per class to save $2 million.
  • Cut more than 50 “unsheltered” positions and programs funded by federal stimulus or one-time funding sources to save $8 million.

The board also plans to dip into nearly $10 million from its reserve funds over the next three years. Board members opted to take their time before making the final decision on school closures.

”We want people to be attached to their school,” Voelpel said. “We want schools to be a part of a community. That’s why making cuts like this is so hard."