The Eatonville School Board is about a month away from a possible decision to close Columbia Crest Elementary School, most likely forever.
That and other potential actions to improve the Eatonville School District’s financial situation will be the topic of a community meeting hosted by the board at 6 p.m. tonight in the Eatonville High School auditorium.
Reduced state and federal funding and declining student enrollment are creating a budget shortage for the district, forcing the board to consider deep cuts in spending. The deepest would come from closing Columbia Crest, which district officials say would save $500,000 to $700,000.
Other possible cuts range from eliminating some teaching and administrative jobs to closing the swimming pool at the high school.
The proposed closure of Columbia Crest, which has 147 students, has generated the most community debate. About 75 people attended a board study session on the budget earlier this month at Weyerhaeuser Elementary School. Most of the ones who spoke during a public comment period were opposed to closing the school. They suggested ways of keeping it open in some other format, such as using private funding to convert it to a school for only high-achieving students.
Board president Bob Homan said a possible closure “is not off the table, but no decision has been made.” If the school is to close, that decision must come before before May 15, the date when teachers must be notified of any layoffs. To accomplish that, the board would probably vote at its last meeting in April.
Homan said the board is weighing the Columbia Crest option carefully, because closing it “would be final.” The school is in a lahar zone in the event of an eruption by Mount Rainier. If the district closed Columbia Crest and later wanted to reopen it, government regulations tied to the lahar designation would limit its occupancy to no more than 100 people – students and staff combined. The district wouldn’t reopen it under those restrictions, Homan said.
A final budget for the 2013-14 school year is expected to be approved in July.