Olympic View Elementary on chopping block?

The attitudes at Olympic View Elementary School are a bit below the weather this week because of a recommendation that may close the school in the next academic year.

The Bremerton School District’s Elementary’s School Closure Study Task Force recommended to close Olympic View at the district’s school board meeting Thursday night.

On Tuesday afternoon, Principal Kathleen Cornelson Smith sent letters out to the parents to let them know the recommendation was coming down the pike. For the next day and half, she fielded phone calls from parents, all of whom were sad their school had been picked for closure. The elementary school is the oldest in the district and there are a lot of memories packed in its hallways.

“They’re sad. Many of our parents went to this school and we have many grandparents who went here, too. It wasn’t Olympic View at the time, but they were in this building,” Smith said. “All of them are sad and supportive of the staff and supportive for the hard work and vision we’ve worked on for the last three years ... of sending students to middle school competent and at grade level.”

The task force met for two months to study and debate over whether a local elementary school should be closed to save money, said district spokeswoman Joan Dingfield.

The district is being forced to take drastic measures in dealing with a projected budget shortfall of $1.2 million in the upcoming 2004-05 academic year. The shortfall is being caused by several factors: declining enrollment at the elementary school level because of declining birth rates in Kitsap County, stagnant revenues from the state and increased overhead costs in operating the school district.

If the school is closed, the students and staff will be sent to the other six elementary schools in the district. The measure would save $400,000 in operational costs for the school year.

“Olympic View Elementary was selected to close because it is the oldest building in the school district, it’s the costliest to maintain and it would be the most expensive to bring up to speed technologically,” Dingfield said. “It would be less disruptive also because it does not have a preschool or Head Start on site.”

Now that the recommendation has been made, the district has a lot to consider. The district will begin work on boundary changes which will determine the bus routes the students now attending Olympic Elementary will have to ride to attend different schools next year. In addition, the enrollment guidelines for students who have to change schools will be considered.

Dingfield said there are enough classrooms in other elementary schools to absorb the students from Olympic View Elementary.

If the closure does occur, it is likely it will be only temporary.

“Plans will likely include tearing the old school down and preparing to build a new school in the vibrant Manette/East Bremerton community when enrollment grows to match Bremerton’s revitalization,” Dingfield said.

The district will be hosting public hearings at 10 a.m. on March 6 and at 7 p.m. March 10 to discuss the recommendation. Both hearings will be at Olympic View Elementary. A school board vote could be as early as the March 18 regular school board meeting. The meeting will be at 6 p.m. at the district office.

“This was not a decision that anyone wanted to reach,” said Assistant Superintendent Roy Okamoto. “This task force struggled with the desire to keep all schools open versus the reality of a $1.2 million budget shortfall and the impact it would have on all student programs.”

Dingfield added this recent committee is the third to make the same recommendation.

“This action complies with the work of all the citizen facilities committees from 1996 on. There have been three committees with the same recommendation.”

The task force was made up of three representatives from each elementary school, employee association presidents and two district administrators, Dingfield said.

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