Chimacum School District plans consolidation

Enrollment decline leads to changes

CHIMACUM — A steady decline in enrollment has led the Chimacum School District to plan to consolidate operations for the 2019-20 school year.

Current district enrollment stands at 803 students, down from 906 last year. The enrollment was at 1,055 in school year 2013-14 and analysis shows a steady decline throughout the past six years.

Grades will be reconfigured for the next school year. The plan approved last month calls for maintaining Chimacum Creek Primary School at 313 Ness Corner Road in Port Hadlock — which houses preschool through second grade — and moving classes around at the main campus at 91 West Valley Road, the site of the present high school, middle school and elementary school.

The sixth grade will be added to the current elementary school model of third through fifth grades, the elementary school section of the campus will be closed and third through sixth grades will be housed in a wing of the current middle school at the main campus.

Middle school and high school classes will be consolidated into a new model of seventh grade through 12th grade and housed at the main campus.

Effective July 1, principal assignments will change. The K-2 principal position is open and will be filled by July 1. The elementary school principal for third through sixth grades will be Jason Lynch. The middle school principal for seventh through 12th grades will be David Cathum.

Superintendent Rick Thompson said the announcement comes early in the planning process for the next school year to ensure ample time for creating a transition strategy.

“With declining enrollment, we had to look at our facilities very carefully, our grade levels and number of administrators, and how we deliver education,” Thompson said.

“The discussion came out of our facility work. We passed a capital levy last summer to keep the facility up-to-speed. In that process, we looked at the square footage and determined what grades go where and how we best use the space.”

The board voted to put the students and teachers in the spaces that are in the best shape, according to Thompson.

“We’ll keep the primary school because it’s 20 years old and it’s in really good shape inside,” Thompson said. “It needs some exterior spruce up. We’ll keep that facility as K-2.

“Then on main campus, we’ll move three, four and five out of the 1948 building. There’s a newly refurbished section of the middle school that was built about 20 years ago that’s been refreshed with carpet, paint, technology and security and we would have four grades there — three, four, five and six.

“There’s room for them. That means we would incorporate the remaining middle school — seven and eight — into our current high school.”

He said students are “being moved to a safer space — single entry, locking hardware, better overall environment, interior hallways. We have video cameras here that’s been an advantage for all of us.”

Thompson admitted that the process is both hard and disruptive, but said that declining enrollment makes it necessary.

“It’s been on a downward trend so it’s not feasible to keep using space that’s been designed to be used for 1,300 or 1,400 students,” he said.

He said he wants to “put the kids in the best spaces that we own.” To do that, he said overhead has to be reduced.

“We are reducing principals, and now we are going through the staffing process and all the state formulas and figuring out now with basically three sites and our alternative school, how do we maximize staffing for that number of students?

“The big challenge is that we passed the 2017 capital levy at the full amount, $3.3 million” but collection is now based on enrollment because of legislative arrangements following the state Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling.

The landmark McCleary decision, which ruled that the state must fully fund basic education, was prompted by a lawsuit in which one of the plaintiffs was Stephanie McCleary, director of human resources at Chimacum School District.

But the result has hurt the district. Even though the state Legislature increased state funding for education, it capped individual school levies.

“The state property tax went up, the support for basic education went up. But, at the same time, our ability to collect our voter-approved levy went significantly down,” Thompson said. “The amount you are able to collect is tied to enrollment.”

He’s been talking with legislators, asking them to relax local levy restrictions so they can collect what the voters authorized.

Thompson said the county overall isn’t growing. No big businesses are relocating or starting up in the district.

Thompson said there isn’t one place that students are going when they leave Chimacum.

“We see a lot going to Port Townsend. When I talked with those families, for many of them it’s because the parents work there; they have grandparents who babysit. It’s a family convenience.

“Some home-school, some families in the south end of the district in Port Ludlow go to North Kitsap because their family orientation is toward that county. Then there’s the competitive market — online, home-school, local school districts, alternative schools.”

Thompson said no one particular grade level is affected.

“We are losing a couple of students in each grade level each month,” he said. “We keep really careful enrollment figures. In the last 20 years it has been going down at a slow rate, a rate that could be compensated by collecting that local levy. “It’s now dropped precipitously and our ability to collect is tied to that new formula. So, it’s real complex.

“If the overall trend continues, we’ll have to have do business differently,” Thompson said. “We’ll look at what are our most vital programs and where can we build for the future. And what’s the best way to deliver instruction in all grades using technology.

“There’s personalized education here.”

Those interested can arrange tours by calling 360-302-5890, according to the Chimacum School District website at www.csd49.org.

________

Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]

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