BELLEVUE, Wash. — The Bellevue Schools District (BSD) said it has seven elementary schools on a list for a consolidation plan that will go into effect for the 2023-2024 school year.
The district cited declining birth rates, increased housing costs, impacts from the pandemic and recent tech layoffs in the area as the main contributing factors. The factors were supported by a recent study conducted by the Wall Street Journal.
The seven elementary schools under consideration for the plan include Ardmore, Eastgate, Enatai, Phantom Lake, Sherwood Forest, Woodridge, and Wilburton. The district said these seven schools have experienced the greatest enrollment decline.
According to the district, enrollment has been dropping since the 2019-2020 school year and they expect numbers to continue to drop for the next 10 years.
Over the last three years, Eastgate Elementary School has seen the largest enrollment drop at 35%. Out of the schools up for consideration, Enatai Elementary has the lowest enrollment decrease with 21%.
Parents who spoke to KING 5 said they first learned their school may be shutting down on Jan. 6. There was a BSD Board of Education meeting on Jan. 12.
“The timeline for all of us was really fast,” said Nicole Holly, a mom of an Eastgate second grader and a soon-to-be kindergartener.
The district's official statement on the proposed plan is as follows: "The proposal considers shifts to consolidate three of the seven elementary schools identified below to stabilize elementary enrollment. Currently, the district is holding a series of staff engagement sessions and family open houses at the potentially impacted schools. These engagement opportunities provide the community with a chance to share with staff and administrators about their experiences. As the process unfolds, we will continue to work with our larger school community to develop the next steps and ensure our programs and services continue to support our educators, students and families."
The declining enrollment in the district is impacting student programming, financial stability and facility usage. According to the district, they are currently only utilizing 66% of space in classrooms and other facilities.
According to the district, some potential changes include:
- Ardmore students would move to Sherwood Forest or Sherwood Forest and Bennett
- Eastgate students would move to Spiritridge or Spiritridge and Somerset
- Enatai students would move to Woodridge and Wilburton
- Phantom Lake students would move to Lake Hills and Spiritridge
During the week of Jan. 23 – BSD is hosting community engagement sessions and open houses at the seven schools to collect feedback from parents and staff.
Holley said the final decision is expected by Feb. 9.
“The timeline just does not feel appropriate given the gravity of what we're talking about,” Holley said. “We're uprooting hundreds of children and these children are the ones who just went through a pandemic. They're young, they are resilient for sure, but they also crave stability.”
The district has 19 total elementary schools.
Parent Teacher Associations for each of the seven schools in question sent a four-page group letter to the BSD. The letter outlines concerns including transparency, equity and questions about district data used to make the consolidation proposal.
Read: A letter from the Parent Teachers Association to the BSD
Holley told KING 5 that many parents are concerned for families that do not have transportation and rely on a walkable neighborhood school system to pick up school materials or school-provided meals.
“If it's not walking accessible, you are putting some families in a very difficult situation,” Holley said.
Members of the Eastgate community supported a recent bake sale students hosted in hopes of "saving their school." The effort raised $275. Holley said the group would donate the funds to a worthy cause.
Kids who participated in the bake sale made Eastgate Eagle pride signs and others wrote letters to the district asking them to keep their schools open.
Holley said the ultimate decision will be difficult for all elementary school families impacted. Her children are already worried about the outcome.
“[My daughter] has cried every day," Holley said. "She does not want to lose her friends. She doesn't want to leave her playground...she wants to be able to take the bus home with her brother next school year. They've been talking about it for months.”
At an open house at Woodridge Elementary School on Tuesday, parents and students voiced their concerns about the proposed consolidation.
"Tell the teachers to not shut it down," said one first-grader, William Eng, when asked why he attended the open house.
"Makes me feel really, really, really sad," said Emily Foster, a student of Woodridge.
Other students agreed.
"My friends are the best friends that I ever had in this whole wide world," Eng said.
Parents shared similar sentiments.
"I was shocked for sure," said Brandon Adams, an expecting father who lives across the street from Woodridge. "Our dream was to send the kid to school, he could just walked there."
Adams shared concerns over the data district leaders are using to make decisions.
"It's using pandemic data which is just going to be weird," said Adams.
The BSD said as of Jan.3, there are 18,445 students enrolled across the district in its 31 schools including Digital Discovery – an online option.
The district said it lost more than 1,800 students over the past four to five years and that the decline started before the COVID-19 pandemic.
A spokesperson for the BSD said there is not one main reason for the consolidation plan. The district said the reasons in addition to dropping enrollment also include declining birth rates and housing costs in the area.
The district is referring families to a demographic and enrollment study video posted in October of last year. It can be viewed by clicking this link.
The district did not specify the exact number of students who could be impacted by the three-school consolidation, plan but a BSD spokesperson said, “We acknowledge the impact this planning has on our entire community, especially our students. We are keeping 100% of the services currently offered, and planning new programs and services. So, there will be no disruption in regards to academics.”
The proposal, according to the district, considers shifts to consolidate three of the seven elementary schools identified below to stabilize elementary enrollment.
Currently, the district is holding a series of staff engagement sessions and family open houses at the potentially impacted schools. “These engagement opportunities provide the community with a chance to share with staff and administrators about their experiences,” according to the district spokesperson. “As the process unfolds, we will continue to work with our larger school community to develop the next steps and ensure our programs and services continue to support our educators, students, and families.”
When asked if there is a possibility all schools remain open – the district said it is a possibility.
When it comes to teaching and staff positions at schools that could potentially shut down and consolidate - the BSD said, "We have not yet gotten to this level of planning. We are working with the staff, the community, demography professionals to assess all the data from the aforementioned links and others, together with BEA, and school administrators to all give information and perspectives."
Parents told KING 5 that the final decision on the consolidation plan should be announced by Feb. 9.