Close Tacoma's Foss High School in fall?
Tacoma Public Schools officials are considering the temporary closure of Foss High School, larger elementary schools class sizes and administrative cost-cutting as options to deal with looming state budget cuts.
In a study session with the School Board on Saturday, Superintendent Art Jarvis outlined a plan to save the district about $5 million in the 2011-12 school year. The plan would also require the district to dip into about $10 million in savings.
Similar plans would be in place for the following two school years.
The school board took no action Saturday.
“I don’t have a good way to ‘nickel and dime’ the system,” Jarvis said, noting that the district has been pinching pennies and leaving positions open for several years already. “I’ve got to look for fairly large blocks of dollars.”
Closing Foss – which has the smallest enrollment (1,066) among the city’s five comprehensive high schools – would save the school district at least $2 million next year, Jarvis said. He said the district would consider keeping the school closed for at least three years to help weather the fiscal storm. Foss students would be reassigned and offered transportation to one of the city’s other high schools.
School board members suggested that the closure, if approved, could be phased in over several years rather than taking effect immediately in the fall.
Foss is home to the district’s prestigious International Baccalaureate program, known for its global focus and rigorous academics. That program, which attracts students from throughout the city, would move to another high school if Foss closes.
Increasing elementary school class sizes by an average of one student per classroom would save an additional $2 million, Jarvis estimated. The state has already cut some dollars that help hire teachers to reduce class size in kindergarten through fourth grade. That will cost Tacoma about $3 million this school year. And Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed cuts that would knock nearly another $3 million from the program next school year.
Other state budget cuts are anticipated as well.
Jarvis said he would ask his administrators to find another $1 million in cuts.
Jarvis said he can operate high schools efficiently at enrollments of about 1,500, give or take 250.
Exceptions include the district’s smaller alternative high schools, such as Tacoma School of the Arts and the newer Science and Math Institute. Those schools lack some of the administrative support, sports and other programs found at larger schools. That allows them to operate at lower per-pupil costs, Jarvis said.
Currently, SOTA has around 460 students and SAMI, in its second year, has around 150.
“If you close SOTA or SAMI, you would close schools that run the most efficiently with the least support,” Jarvis said.
Even with more elementary students arriving in the coming years, the superintendent also suggested the board look at temporary closure of some smaller elementary schools – those with fewer than 300 students. That could include Roosevelt, Lyon, McKinley and Franklin.
Board President Kurt Miller said that as the School Board considers the financial costs of closing a school, it must also think about community impact.
Board member Catherine Ushka-Hall said many of the smaller elementary schools are on the city’s south and east sides.
“You take a school out of a neighborhood, and the long-term economic effect on the neighborhood is devastating,” she said. “I don’t want to create a permanent urban abyss anywhere in Tacoma.”
Ushka-Hall said she would favor evaluating district programs to see whether they’re effective. “If there are savings to be had there, let’s do that first,” she said.
Board member Jim Dugan said that if the board is not willing to consider other kinds of cuts, then it must look at school closures.
Foss PTA vice president Patti Derusha has already lived through one school closure. Her son attended Hunt Middle School last year before starting at Foss this year. The school district closed Hunt temporarily as part of a plan to improve the school. A new Hunt building is scheduled to reopen, possibly for the 2014-15 school year.
“The writing was on the wall,” said the 1981 Foss alum. “They closed Hunt, and what feeds Foss?”
Debbie Cafazzo: 253-597-8635 email@example.com
Staff writer Steve Maynard contributed to this report.