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No plan in works to close Lake schools

by Laney Griffo
lgriffo@tahoedailytribune.com

Parents of Douglas students were assured on Monday that the schools at Lake Tahoe would not close anytime soon.

Zephyr Cove Elementary and Whittell High schools have experienced declining enrollment for years.

According to district, there were 288 Lake Tahoe students as of Nov. 1, 2019, down 27 students from the year before. Tahoe enrollment was 558 students in 2006, when plans to close Kingsbury Middle School were first announced.

Last year, the school district started conversations on how to increase enrollment and what to do if enrollment does not grow.

The school board moved its meeting to Whittell to allow parents, students and staff to weigh in on the issue. There was standing room only at the meeting.

The conversation started with Trustee Tom Moore asking the board at what point the district would consider closing one of the schools.

“Any talk of closing a school is a little premature,” said board member Keith Byer. Both Byer and Board President Robbe Lehmann thought a committee should be formed to develop a plan.

The district had previously closed Kingsbury Middle School in June 2008.

During public comment, many community members expressed concern, stating they thought the point of the meeting was to develop a plan to increase enrollment, not closing the schools.

They also talked about bringing in an expert to look at solutions or a public relations firm to talk about the benefits of the schools.

One recurring statement was that talking about schools closing because of declining enrollment was a self-fulfilling prophecy; parents of young students don’t want to enroll students in Zephyr Cove if it’s going to eventually close.

Another point that was continually brought up was that the district just hired Shawn Lear as principal of the lake schools and Sean Ryan as vice principal. The public sentiment was they haven’t been in their positions long enough to make an impact so the board should give them some time before making decisions.

Moore put forward a motion to hire a consultant to develop a plan that must contain a roadmap on how to educate if enrollment continues to decline.

The board discussed that motion and made many amendments. The public commented that the motion didn’t reflect their feedback and that they’d rather see money put back into the school instead of being spent on a consultant.

In response to comments from the public about the board remaining neutral on the topic, Lehmann said, “I’m not neutral, I want the lake schools to be an absolute success and for enrollment to increase.”

Moore defended his motion, saying the verbiage was meant to be flexible. However, the motion died.

Prior to this meeting, the Lake Schools Advisory Committee was formed with Lear, Ryan and parents and staff from each school.

A second motion, put forward by Lehmann, directed the Lake Schools Advisory Committee to tackle the task of increasing enrollment.

Lehmann asked for the crowd to have a show of hands to see if that was a reasonable way to move forward and almost all hands were raised.

The board passed the motion unanimously.

“I feel very supported by the school board and reassured that the board has nothing but positive expectations for the lake schools,” Lear said.

Another issue many members of the public expressed concern about was the district changing the lake schools’ schedule for next year.

That topic will be discussed at the March 10 meeting but the parents may complete a survey or attend community input meetings in Carson Valley on Feb. 24 at Douglas High School and Feb. 27 at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School.