One of Lake Tahoe's schools will close in 2008

A unanimous decision Tuesday paved the way for one of two Lake Tahoe schools in Douglas County to close because of declining enrollment.

Discussions and meetings with community members in the past year on a consolidation plan to either close Zephyr Cove Elementary or Kingsbury Middle School after the 2007-'08 school year allowed for a relatively calm meeting of the Douglas County School District Board of Trustees.

Under the vote, administrators will bring their recommendation to the board in June on which school they believe should close. The recommendation hinges upon several factors, such as the type of developable land the district can get from an interested entity, such as the county.

The grade configuration between the two schools was also decided. The surviving site will house kindergarten to sixth-graders. Whittell High School, which will have a new bus garage and indoor sports facility built this summer, will have seventh through 12th grade.

The high school will return to teaching seventh graders, which it did before Kingsbury Middle School opened in 1976.

Several board members voiced appreciation for the involvement and temperament of parents.

"I couldn't be more proud to represent them," said trustee Cindy Trigg, the Lake Tahoe representative on the board.

Most of the eight rows of plastic chairs in the library of Kingsbury Middle School were filled by interested parents, and some students, regarding the issue.

Whittell junior Ryan Bivens asked the board if the cost savings of roughly $800,000 of a school's closure could help fund a new track at the high school.

"We've got the worst track in the entire state," he said during a break in the meeting. "I haven't been to a worse track."

Parent Chris Sullivan hoped to maintain academic programs.

"We just need to be able to see that we won't lose anything" other than a school, she said.

Sixth-grade student Sabrina Swoger wanted to know if both academic and athletic programs would be enhanced.

In his answers Superintendent John Soderman said the cost savings would address whatever needs schools in the district possess. He referred to the $1.5 million profit from a sale of a swath of land near PiƱon Hills Elementary School with about $600,000 of that sale available to modify the existing lake schools for the consolidation change.

As for academic programs, Soderman said certain areas could be improved. His example was the drama program, which was discontinued at Whittell because of lack of interest but prospering at Kingsbury. With the additional grade levels at Whittell in the 2008-09 school year, drama could again thrive at the high school.

The decision to close a school was prompted by curriculum and instruction. Whittell is anticipated to drop to 149 students by the 2013-14 school year from 232 students this year. Kingsbury, at 160 students, is anticipated to level off at 105 students in eight years.

And enrollment projections for Zephyr Cove Elementary, at 234 students, is at 210 students beginning in the 2010-11 school year.

Overall total enrollment at the three lake schools have declined from 942 students in the 1997-98 school year to 626 this school year. In eight years its projected at 464 students.

"(Enrollment projections) don't get any better in any forecasting we've been able to do," Soderman said.

Because of the continuing attrition and cost savings of a closure, board trustee Sharla Hales questioned the timing of the closure, wondering if it would be better to shut down a site after next school year.

But Trigg and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Rick Kester didn't see that move as prudent. Kester said the timeline should stay on course because it was the year given to parents and staff members at the schools need the time to plan. But he also added the decision was up to the board.

Trigg, whose voice choked up and eyes watered, said she wanted the consolidation to be an event that parents and students would look forward to and not something to berate.

"We knew it was coming," she said about the consolidation. "It just didn't seem it would get here that fast."

Choosing one

Some issues Douglas County School District will consider in deciding which school to close:

-- Developable land in the deal

-- Best use/value of the site

-- Any major building improvement needs

-- Possible conversion projects, mitigation

Advantages to preserving Zephyr Cove Elementary:

-- Proximity to Whittell High School

-- Staff more efficiently shared

-- Bus transportation more efficient

-- High school/elementary school tutoring opportunity

-- Potential public use of Kingsbury Middle School

-- Possible expansion of property on Warrior Way

Advantages to preserving Kingsbury Middle School:

-- Newer site

-- Closer to some families

-- Better gym and library

-- Not as close to Highway 50

Source: Douglas County School District


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