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Wenatchee School Board closes elementary school, cuts 63 staff positions


(The Center Square) – Wenatchee School District is closing the doors to Columbia Elementary following a unanimous School Board decision on Tuesday to “ensure the long-term sustainability” of the district.

Enrollment has been declining throughout the district since 2015, with around 916 students having left since then. That loss of students is paired with a loss of funding, as the state sees the two factors as intertwined, according to WSD’s website.

While the district expects enrollment to continue declining alongside community birth rates and smaller kindergarten classes, it also expects reductions in Local Effort Assistance funds, Regionalization funds and Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds.

Since staffing constitutes 85% of the district’s budget, reductions were needed to balance the budget shortfalls. District officials intend to cut around $9 million for the upcoming school year.

Teachers, parents and other community members flocked to Tuesday’s School Board meeting to try to save the school, but instead, they could only voice their frustrations.

Brittany Stevens, a former teacher in the district and parent of a Columbia student, told the board that the district is losing the public’s trust.

Despite proposing the move in January, the district failed to meaningfully address the community’s concerns around a lack of transparency, poor communication, translation issues and a lack of other viable solutions, among other matters, she said.

“Tonight, your vote is bigger than just voting to close or keep open an elementary school,” Stevens said.

Micaela Salgado Cuevas, a kindergarten teacher at Columbia, said she, like many others, will lose her job when school closes.

“I am one of those staff who’s not going to be working, who doesn’t have a job, but guess what,” she said. “If Columbia stays open, I’m ok with that. I would rather lose my job and have these kids stay at Columbia.”

While Columbia Elementary is the only school in the district closing its doors, others face staff reductions and cuts to materials, supplies and operational costs as well. In total, the district is cutting 63 positions for the 2024-2025 school year and will save approximately $8.9 million.

The district outlined the savings as such:

$2.8 million saved by closing Columbia and cutting 28 staff members;$2 million saved by aligning the three middle schools’ schedules and cutting 20 staff members;$671,000 saved by shifting the high school from a 4×4 block to a six-period schedule while cutting six staff members;$1 million saved by cutting “additional staffing” by nine positions;$2.5 million saved by reductions in materials, supplies and operational costs.

Moving into the next school year, Wenatchee School District plans to move Columbia Elementary students to the neighboring Washington and Lincoln elementary schools.

Brain Herling, a math and science teacher at WSD’s WestSide High School, was the only community member who supported the closure during public comment on Tuesday.

Herling noted the swath of schools closing around the state. He said Seattle voted to close 20 out of 80 of its elementary schools. Bellevue closed two elementary schools last year and may close a middle school this year. Olympia is looking at closing two of its elementary schools.

He said Wenatchee is not alone as districts across the state grapple with the same issues.

“If we do not close Columbia, the requisite cuts to other positions across our district will take behavioral specialists out of many of our schools, they will leave us with less administrative support, and, more importantly, they’ll cost us more money which will necessitate further cuts in the coming years,” Herling said. “We simply do not have the money. I hate that fact, but it’s a fact nonetheless.”