Open discussions on closing schools in Port Angeles

PORT ANGELES — Getta and David Rogers moved to Port Angeles from Hawaii about two years ago, largely because the couple’s two school-aged children could attend the schools here.

The Rogerses are not the typical case, as they heard Wednesday night at a Roosevelt Middle School forum on a proposal to tighten belts on the district’s shrinking enrollment though reforms and shuttering at least one school.

“I’d really like to see the trend turn,” Getta Rogers said.

However, she credited the district for holding the forum and hoped that the community would work together.

“In the face of changing demographics, it’s a really difficult and potentially painful process,” Getta said.

David Rogers took an optimistic tack: “Good things could come of it.”

Clallam County residents are getting older, property values are rising, and at the same time, family-wage jobs aren’t falling from trees, Port Angeles Schools Superintendent Gary Cohn said.

Those factors are contributing to a steady slide in enrollment, a trend that administrators predict will continue for the foreseeable future.

$900,000 in cuts

To offset dwindling enrollment, the district needs to cut expenses by at least $900,000 by the 2008-09 school year.

Projections say enrollment will bottom out at 3,711 in the 2010-11 school year.

That means there will be about 400 fewer students over the next five years, as well as $1.96 million less in state and federal funding.

“We’re not the only district going through this,” Cohn told the assembled parents, educators and concerned residents, noting that gigantic Seattle Schools and tiny Enumclaw Schools are facing shrinking student bodies and likewise are considering closing campuses.

A task force choose three options on how to deal with the diminishing student count.

The top option includes:

* Closing Fairview Elementary.

* Realigning elementary grades as kindergarten through sixth.

* Consolidating the seventh- and eighth-grade classes to one campus at Stevens, and using Roosevelt as an elementary school.

* Moving Choice to the Port Angeles High School campus.

The purpose of Wednesday’s forum, which had an audience of about 30, was to inform community members about the crisis, and the potential solutions.

Cohn said he’s noticed that residents not only appear to have accepted that the district has to adjust for stagnant enrollment, but have pitched in.

“They have been terrifically engaged,” Cohn said.

“This is great.”

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