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Decision to close or to keep school March 23

A public forum on whether the Bremerton School District should close Olympic View Elementary School as a cost-saving measure turned into an emotional outcry with a clear message: Everyone loves Olympic View Elementary.

The Wednesday night hearing at the school was the second of its kind on the topic. The first hearing, which was on Saturday, March 6, lasted four hours. The Wednesday night session lasted only two hours.

The district started out the hearing by giving a brief background of the course of events that led to the public hearings. 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.

“We’re not here because of anything you’ve done wrong or because of anything that we’ve done wrong. We are here solely because the state does not fully fund education,” said Superintendent Bette Hyde.

“We don’t like it, but given the fact that we have space — we have 15 extra classrooms — we are looking at closing an elementary school.”

While the original savings prediction of closing Olympic View Elementary was announced as a $40,000 operating cost, the district revised that figure in a PowerPoint presentation during the public hearing Wednesday night to include staff positions that would be eliminated. The original press release indicated the staff and students would be dispersed to the other six elementary schools.

According to the newest information, if Olympic View Elementary were to be closed, six teacher positions will be elimated because of decreased enrollment (the district is expecting 75 less elementary students next year) and teacher consolidation. In addition, four teacher/specialist positions would be eliminated. The district is ballparking the teacher’s salary at $60,000, and estimating the savings at $600,000. Additional savings from other areas include “non-teaching savings” at $399,430 and “central office” savings at $50,000 each.

Community members and OIympic View Elementary parents lined up at two microphones. None of the speakers were in favor of the idea.

Most of the speakers hit on the sense of community and family at the school.

Manette resident Gary Saucerman earned applause from the attendees when he went to the heart of the matter.

“Our children aren’t educated by a group of teachers, they are educated by a family. If you are thinking about breaking up that family, shame on you,” Saucerman said.

Many attendees were more in favor of another option: shifting the grade structure to kindergarten-sixth grade for elementary schools, seventh and eighth grade for junior high school and ninth through 12th grade for high school, which would shift enough students around to free classroom space to close Bremerton Junior High School.

Many spoke to the maintenance issues at the junior high school, which included rats, leaky ceilings and alleged black mold and mushrooms growing inside the school.

“This option would solve the budget problem at $1.2 million non-teaching cost to operate,” said Manette resident Rachelle Staples, who has four children.

A school closure committee met for several months and presented the school board with the recommendation of closing Olympic View Elementary in February.

“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,” said Joan Dingfield, district spokesperson. “It would be less disruptive also because it does not have a preschool or Head Start on site.”

The closure is being considered as a temporary situation.

“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 school board will be taking public input (in the form of letters, e-mails and phone calls) until its 6 p.m. meeting on Thursday, March 18. The board is expected to decide the issue at a called meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 23 at the district’s administrative office.

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