Bellevue school board votes to consolidate 2 elementary schools due to low enrollment

The Bellevue School Board has voted to consolidate two elementary schools, which is a modified recommendation in respect to the district's earlier plans of consolidation.

Three board members voted yes and two abstained.

Earlier this year, the district proposed consolidating three elementary schools to save costs due to low enrollment, a trend expected to continue.

The district is also faced with a $31 million shortfall for next year’s budget.  

"In October 2022 it became clear that enrollment would not go back to pre-pandemic levels, as a result of lower birth rates, higher housing costs, more educational options for families including private schools, lower immigration levels, and families moving to more affordable areas. The impact of the drop in enrollment will hit the district’s financial position in the 2023-2024 school year. The magnitude of the situation serves as the rationale behind consolidation considerations," interim superintendent Dr. Art Jarvis wrote on the district's website on March 8.

As of October 2022, eight of Bellevue’s 18 elementary schools had less than 400 students, the school board reported. The forecasted enrollment for the 2023-24 school year would result in 10 of Bellevue’s 18 elementary schools having fewer than 400 students, according to the district.

The district said if it consolidated schools, only three of the 18 elementary schools would have fewer than 400 students. 

The initial recommendation had Wilburton (midwest area), Ardmore (northside) and Eastgate (southeast area) Elementary schools as the buildings that would close and consolidate with other nearby schools. 

After public pushback, Jarvis revised the consolidation plan to include two schools, not three like initially planned. 

The changes are: 

  • Not to consolidate Ardmore and add the Arabic Heritage Language program and work with staff to "develop and implement innovative approaches at the school to attract and retain additional enrollment."
  • Wilburton would be consolidated with Clyde Hill and Enatai Elementary schools.
  • Eastgate would consolidate with Spiritridge Elementary, and the Advanced Learning Services would be moved from Spiritridge to Woodridge Elementary.

While board members were not immediately available for comment after the meeting, Interim Superintendent Dr. Art Jarvis, said in a statement, "I want to extend my heart to a community that is aching as a result of this consolidation. We have no bad schools needing closing — only small schools getting smaller. That fact requires that we consolidate, and we will. I ask that all who love the schools join with BSD to embrace innovation and changes, as we work together to create a future system that is stronger and better than we could have ever imagined."

According to The Seattle Times, Ardmore is a Title I school, which means it receives federal funding because it serves a higher percentage of low-income families. Nearly 40% of students don't speak English as a first language, and the proposal for the consolidation confused the school's parents, according to The Seattle Times. 

The board said in February that their options were to consolidate the schools to get classes and enrollment to the right size, or they could start a contracting process where every year, services are taken away from kids that would impact the learning process. 

The district told FOX 13 in February that there won't be any staff layoffs because the schools will consolidate. 

A fact parents at both Eastgate and Wilburton are now questioning since the consolidation will only save the district about $6 million.

Lisa Ross's daughter is a student at Wilburton Elementary. She was among the parents at the board meeting who left furious and with more questions than answsers.

"Now it's ‘Oh yea we are cutting jobs, and were going to close schools,’" Ross said. "It's only $6 million dollars in savings that's a drop in the bucket when you have $31 million in deficit. Where is the other money coming from? No one seems to have that answer."

Additional cuts in spending and administrative costs will be put in place to fully address the budget shortfall, the district said after the vote. 

Hundreds of Eastgate students will now have about a 40-minute commute as they now have to over I-90 to get to their new campus.

The back and forth weighing on some of the school board members like District 5 Board Member Jane Aras who abstained from voting, saying they needed more time to weigh their options, including keeping the schools open one more year while additional options are planned out.

"I disagree with what being presented, I fill my head with questions; I keep asking if this the best we can do, the best worst case scenario?" Aras said.

The final vote forcing parents like Kelly Smith, a 12-year Bellevue District parent, if her children will return.

"It's clear that that's what they think our kids are worth," Smith said.

The consolidations would happen for the upcoming 2023-24 school year.