School board moves forward with Hilltop Elementary closure study

At its April 13 board meeting, the Puyallup School Board took the next step in the process of deciding whether to close Hilltop Elementary, the smallest of the district’s 22 elementary schools.

 

The board unanimously approved a resolution initiating a 90-day time frame to consider closing the North Hill school.

 

During the next three months, the board of directors will accept public testimony on the potential school closure and review a comprehensive analysis on the subject. The board requested the study during its March 23 meeting.

 

The full report (pdf, 3.2Mb), which was shared at Monday’s board meeting, is available on this district Web site.

  

A public hearing on the potential closure will be held on June 10, with a final decision scheduled to be made at the July 13, 2009 school board meeting.

  

Board President Greg Heath encourages community members to study the analysis of the potential school closure and share their comments. In addition to making their voices heard at the public hearing, citizens may e-mail comments on this district Web site.

  

Heath stressed that the board will review all comments and suggestions and that no decision will be made until July.

  

Superintendent recommendation

  

Superintendent Tony Apostle recommends the board consider closing Hilltop Elementary, citing both educational and financial reasons.

  

“I believe the time has arrived and the data points strongly suggest” that Hilltop Elementary be closed and consolidated with Northwood and Mt. View elementary schools, the other two sites on North Hill serving students in kindergarten through grade six, Apostle said.

  

“When are small schools too small?” Apostle said. “I offer that when they offer inequitable resources to students, they are too small. When they become too expensive to operate and take away valuable resources from all students, they are too small. When they offer fewer educational opportunities and they offer limited diverse social development for students, they are too small.”

  

Apostle’s comments followed a comprehensive report by Rudy Fyles, executive director of facilities, who outlined enrollment patterns, financial considerations, facility planning, and projected growth over the next 12 years in the North Hill region.

  

Enrollment

  

Hilltop Elementary has experienced a continuous decline of students for more than a decade, Fyles said. In the past 13 years the school has dropped a third of its enrollment, serving 102 fewer students between October 1995 and October 2008.

  

The school, located adjacent to Edgemont Junior High, is the smallest elementary school in the district with 211 students enrolled last October.

  

If Hilltop Elementary closes next year, enrollment at Northwood Elementary would jump from 265 students this year to 381 in the fall. Mt. View Elementary would increase from 294 this year to 369. Both Northwood and Mt. View elementary schools have room to serve the additional students, Fyles said.

  

Hilltop Elementary staff members would be realigned throughout the school district, said Lorraine Wilson, assistant superintendent of human resources.

While it is difficult to project future growth in the region because of the unstable economy, the Northwood Elementary master plan calls for adding portable classrooms if necessary by 2014 and building a new 550-student or 750-student elementary school to handle long-term enrollment growth.

 

Consolidating three schools into two would save the district nearly $350,000 annually and is included in $15.7 million worth of savings proposed in the 2009-10 draft budget.

 

 

The school district, like others around the state, is undergoing historically unprecedented budget cuts due to the severely reduced funding from the state of Washington.

Closure idea spans several decades

The idea of closing Hilltop Elementary is not new. Some of the earliest discussions of eventual closure date to the mid-1980s. Fyles also presented documentation of news articles that address a meeting in 1998 between the school board and the Edgewood City Council.

The agenda included a presentation and discussion of the search for a site for a new Edgemont Junior High. More than 300 people attended the meeting, and discussion included building the new Edgemont Junior High on the existing site with the possibility of consolidating Hilltop Elementary with Northwood Elementary within six to 12 years.

A year later, a committee of citizens commissioned to review district facility needs recommended to the school board Hilltop Elementary be consolidated with Northwood Elementary at the 20-acre Northwood site within seven to 12 years.

“It is historically clear that the consolidation of Hilltop has been discussed and planned for in public venues for more than 10 years,” Fyles said.

Benefits of consolidation

By doing so, Edgemont Junior High could eventually expand its classroom facilities and improve safety by relocating the track and field to the Hilltop site, Fyles said. The only way to access the track and field now is for students to cross 24th Street.

Hilltop Elementary students and teachers would also benefit from being served in an educational environment where they are surrounded by more of their peers, Fyles said. In the analysis presented Monday night, orchestra is mentioned as one program that would benefit from the consolidation.

This year, for example, there are two sixth-grade students in the Hilltop Elementary orchestra class. While this provides students with more individual attention, the report states that the limited instrumentation “deprives them of the opportunity to have a full orchestra experience until they reach junior high, while students in other schools are able to perform in larger groups.”

Additionally, the resolution approved by the board states there would be more opportunities for teachers to team with their colleagues and participate in professional development opportunities.

Hilltop Elementary School opened in 1957 as part of a separate Edgemont School District and consolidated with the Puyallup School District in 1967.

 

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