On Thursday, January 12, 2023, Melissa deVita, BSD’s Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations shared the information contained in the video presentation above, during a study session of the Bellevue School Board. Melissa reestablished information regarding declining enrollment and shared options to address it.
This information was shared with school administrators and staff on Wednesday, January 11, 2023. Some of the content is framed for a staff audience, but all is available for the community to review.
Planning for the Future – January 12 Board Presentation
Navigate the video topics using these time stamps:
- 0:55 – Presentation overview
- 1:27 – Declining enrollment drivers and impact
- 3:40 – Ensuring financial stability, improving efficiency
- 4:06 – Innovating student opportunities (Digital Discovery expansion, Heritage Language)
- 5:11 – Elementary impacts
- 7:09 – Decision-making process to plan for the future
- 8:56 – Stakeholder engagement on potential actions
- 11:02 – Data driven approach for recommendations
- 12:08 – Data for current enrollment, largest enrollment drop, and lowest capacity utilization
- 13:01 – Schools with limited alternatives
- 14:24 – Special programs
- 14:53 – Potential shifts
- 18:37 – Stakeholder engagement timeline
- 19:30 – Community open house dates and times
Community Feedback – Let’s Talk
Proposed Next Steps and Community Engagement
The proposal considers shifts to consolidate three of the seven elementary schools identified below to stabilize elementary enrollment. These schools have experienced the greatest enrollment decline to date and include Ardmore, Eastgate, Enatai, Phantom Lake, Sherwood Forest, Woodridge and Wilburton Elementaries.
The next step the district will take is to hold a series of staff engagement sessions and community open houses at the seven impacted schools. These engagement opportunities provide stakeholders an opportunity to share with staff the impact on their individual school communities.
Impacted schools will receive an invitation to attend from their building leaders to attend an open house Community open houses will take place the week of January 23, 2023. Sherwood Forest dual-language program families will be invited to a meeting that will take place concurrent to their open house, and Special Education families will be able to attend program specific meetings on the same nights as their community open houses.
Also, the community is invited to continue to provide their feedback, input and suggestions through the district’s Let’s Talk platform. Please use the “Planning for the Future” button to share feedback on this topic.
Building Community Solutions
The Board meeting presentation video follows a continuation of a series around building community solutions. It is preceded by the Planning for the Future presentation that introduces information regarding declining BSD enrollment and current and future impacts across the district. Previous to that, the district released a Demographic and Enrollment Study that provided foundational understanding of housing development and cost, birth rates in the area, historical enrollment, and other factors that explain the past and predict the future of enrollment levels at BSD.
Good afternoon, my name is Melissa deVita and I am the Deputy Superintendent of Finance and Operations for the Bellevue School District. As many of you are aware, our district is facing a challenge over the next few years with our continuing declining enrollment. Our enrollment numbers have been dropping since 2019-20 school year and we anticipate enrollment to continue to drop for the next 10 years, ultimately reaching 16,000 students from a high enrollment of 20,000 students. Today I’d like to reintroduce to you some of the issues and opportunities that we will be looking at in the near future and the process that we are using to help determine a solution. We are considering the data and what we are looking at but most importantly I want to share with you the opportunity to help us determine a recommendation for the board. I recognize that these are very difficult topics because people will be impacted, and this is some of the hardest work a school district must address. So, I want to make sure that we address your concerns as well as we continue to move forward.
As I stated in the presentation given in December, we are facing the challenge of declining enrollment in small schools. But we’re not alone in analyzing these impacts and working to determine a path forward. Just last week there was an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing enrollment declines throughout the country. In fact, some of the largest districts in the nation have already lost over 10 percent of their enrollment including New York City, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Fort Worth. But in Bellevue we do have some unique impacts. As well you know, everyone is impacted by the declining birth rates, but we have the impact of a significant increase in our housing costs on top of already high housing costs. Just last year, our overall assessed value in the district rose by 27 percent. I have never seen assessed values rise that much in one year. On top of that, with the pandemic and the shift in work environment from in-person to remote, we have tech workers in our district where that shift has been even greater. In addition, tech companies are in the midst of a layoff which is further impacting our enrollment. You know, declining enrollment impacts our ability to provide a variety of student programming and obviously it also impacts our financial stability with over 80 percent of our funding being driven by enrollment. Finally, it really impacts our facility usage. We are anticipating our capacity utilization of our buildings district-wide dropping to about 66 percent, which means that one out of every three of our classrooms would not be used for its intended purpose. We have paused construction on new facilities and while we take that step back, we want to look at long-term facility plans. We need to address those needs of older buildings in our district without overbuilding so that we cannot spend taxpayer money on unnecessary schools.
These are things that we can do. But more importantly, there are things that we must do to support our district stability moving forward. We are considering options and looking to implement a variety of solutions. Our goal is to maximize our resources and programs for students while ensuring long-term financial stability. One piece of the solution will be around facility utilization and efficiency. Another will be around resource allocations and assessing what expenditures have the greatest impact on student success. We’re also taking steps to increase enrollment by providing innovative opportunities for students. For example, we’re looking at expanding our Digital Discovery program to include more non-resident students. Currently, we are limited to 10 percent of our students being out of district. However, in the future that could be much larger. And we are beginning the implementation of our Heritage Language Program starting next year with Arabic. We currently have about 70 students signed up for the program in grades kindergarten through second and approximately two-thirds of those students are currently not in our school buildings. They were either leaving private schools to join us or they are from other districts. So, while these programs may look like they’re taking kids from other schools, they’re also helping us to maintain or increase our enrollment district-wide. As seen on the previous slide and in the presentation last month, the biggest impact to date has been at elementary schools. However, that impact is moving up through the system and will soon be impacting secondary schools. We currently have about 1,200 students at each grade level at elementary school with about 1,600 in high school. So every year that will be moving up and soon we will be at 1,200 kids per year in middle schools and then in high schools. We don’t want to be looking at making a decision or implementing solutions every year and so we’re working to identify solutions that will offer stability over the next eight to ten years. This is not easy work. These types of impacts and decisions are some of the hardest things that school districts do. And as I stated earlier, we do recognize the impacts it has on people, our staff, our students, their families, and our community. And we wanted you to be involved in helping us to find the solution. Our goal today is to discuss the options that are being considered. including how we got to this point and then to provide some information to you regarding how you can help us further define our direction for moving forward.
Lastly, will secondary schools be impacted in the future. One of the things that we want to do is to allow the people that are working on reimagining middle schools to complete that effort and make their recommendations. We want to understand the impact those recommendations could have on our middle school program and the facility needs at those schools. So those recommendations will be provided later this spring and will be incorporated in our plan for secondary.
We have been reviewing and analyzing data with respect to our enrollment for a while now and we really want everyone to understand our concerns and the opportunities they have presented. So we spent this fall interacting with the board, sharing information via our normal communication channels like BSD News and Events, and sharing videos with both our demographer and myself.
We want to spend a significant amount of time looking at the options moving forward. We’ve developed various ideas over and over again and we have finally come to a set of options that we would like to share with you. This has not been an easy process and we will continue to look at other opportunities to provide the stability we are seeking moving forward. Sometimes it feels like we’ve been around the circle and then back again coming up with potential solutions and then reversing those and coming up with something new. But now is the time to get others more fully involved in the process to help us reach some recommendations. So this is our first meeting where we are sharing some of the options that we are looking at moving forward. The plan is to have these meetings with the staff today than to issue an email to all staff so that they understand where we are at and what we are looking at. And then finally we want to communicate with your communities of the schools most likely to be impacted by some of the solutions being considered prior to the board meeting. We don’t want them to be surprised by what we are presenting at the board meeting. We will be having a workshop with the board at their meeting tomorrow night to discuss the options that you are hearing about today following tomorrow night’s board meeting. We have scheduled a series of staff meetings, community forums, and focus groups and we’re going to all the potential schools impacted to hear your concerns and to gather information that will help us form any solution or recommendation that will be presented to the board. Specific dates and times are provided at the end of this presentation. And in addition, we’ll be conducting staff surveys and community surveys to further gather information. We’re also planning to engage with specific focus groups with the lens of equity for families and staff of students served in special education, dual language, and our preschool programs. Our goal for these focus groups is to understand your needs and their needs and potential solutions will meet those needs or how to mitigate the impact. In addition, at our community forums, there will be some alternatives presented where we would love to get input from people with respect to how to collapse schools how many different schools we should be looking at and where boundaries should be drawn.
We’re open to considering new ideas as well if people bring them forward. But at the end of the day we will need to make a decision with respect to the consolidation of some of our elementary schools. A recommendation will be made to the board on February 9th. Following that recommendation, we will move to planning the implementation of those recommendations. At this time, we do not have a clear timeline. We will be working with those impacted to develop this transition plan that will include celebrations, open houses, and allowing families to make choices.
We have been looking at data to help us determine what options to even consider in order to maximize learning resources and to better understand the impact of small schools. We looked at maximizing our building utilization. Some of our schools are currently at a 50 percent occupancy level, which means that half of their classrooms are not being used for their intended purpose, even though I know that they’re making great use of this extra space. We looked at the locations of our schools and how close they were to other schools and how easy would it be for families to go to that new school. We looked at access to public transportation as well. And we also took into consideration specialized programs and the impact of a move would have on those students.
We looked at students with special needs and took them into consideration along with other programs such as our summer lunch program and wanting to ensure that we still had those supports available to our community.
As we looked at this data, some schools kept popping up. We looked at the largest enrollment drops in the past three years ranging from 35 percent to 21. We looked at the lowest current enrollment that is at 279 students and the top eight schools reaching 388 students. Our overall average enrollment at elementary schools has dropped in three years from 550 students to 450 students. And we also looked at the forecast moving forward so that we know that we can expect additional drops in enrollment at some of these schools. Finally, we looked at capacity utilization and the schools that were below at or below are around 60 percent. And the same schools kept popping up when looking at all this different data. However, some of those schools also have limitations that we need to take into consideration. For example, Newport Heights being located over on a plateau away from other schools. And with Newport Heights the closest elementary school to Newport Heights being Somerset, which is very full. If we were to consolidate Newport Heights into another school, it would have to be Eastgate and that is just a long way for families to travel to get to an elementary school. The same would occur for Clyde Hill with its neighboring schools being full including Medina and Cherry Crest. We looked at Bennett, but Bennett would move students into Ardmore and Sherwood. And with that move both of those schools would lose their title resources. And then finally, we looked at other things just like pure location. But Cherry Crest and Medina are in out of the way places that are hard to get to. And for Lake Hills, we looked at the summer feeding program and it is the only school in our district that qualifies that allows us to provide free meals during the summer to children under 18 years old. It allows us to offer meals both at Lake Hills and at Sammamish High School and we did not want to jeopardize the availability of those meals to families in our community. Many of our schools provide different services and programs and we want to make sure we include families with students served in these special programs as well as staff so that we can understand unique needs and opportunities that we may not have considered, and it will help us determine next steps. These are the families and staff members that will be included in our focus group discussions. After sifting through this data and going around and around with various ideas and options, we have ended up with seven schools for possible consolidation. Ultimately, we need to collapse three elementary schools to leave us in a stable position over the next eight to ten years. These are the schools that you see over and over again when looking at the data about enrollment. While Phantom Lake doesn’t appear on all the slides in terms of losing enrollment, it has consistently been one of our smaller schools in the district. I recognize that this is really tough information to consume, that people get emotional about these types of decisions rightfully so, and that people immediately start thinking about impacts that will impact them personally. But please understand that we are looking at three out of these seven schools, and yes, you could be one of the three impacted. But we want to work with you to really understand how that would impact you, your students, their families, and your community. And so, we will be coming to each of these schools to gather that information. I know that no matter what direction the district ultimately heads in, it will have an impact. And yet, if we don’t look at consolidating any schools, we will still need to address the impacts of lower enrollment on our district as a whole which could include significant layoffs across the entire district. Our goal is to do the right planning to avoid layoffs but that does not mean that we will not need to reduce or eliminate some positions within the district. And we are working on a plan to put that together right now, but we want to implement that plan over three years. And we believe that we have the reserves and savings accounts that will allow us to do that. So that we can use attrition as a basis of eliminating staff as opposed to layoffs. Setting this direction though does not mean that everyone will necessarily have the same job that they are doing today in the future. We may ask you to do something different, but we want to offer everyone who wants to stay in the district a role in the district.
I’m sure your minds are swirling with a lot of questions. When we looked at the input we received previously, a lot of the questions centered around how staff would be impacted and what the process would be for reassigning staff. The majority of certificated staff will be moving with their students to a new facility. We still need that staff to support kids, to work with kids, to teach kids. And so, staff will make that transition with their students. Having staff move with their students will also create a sense of stability for students, seeing faces they recognize even though they are in a different building. For classified staff, we will have positions available. Some will move with their students, but in addition, we are currently staffed in most classified roles including custodians, nutritional services, bus drivers, and paraeducators. We’ve worked with the union leaders and brought them up to speed on the direction we are heading in. So, they have been involved with us up to this point and the process for reassignment is laid out in your contracts. You can look there for more information. Keep in mind that most of our contracts use seniority as the basis for staff placement. Once decisions are made, will we be setting up meetings with the staff at the buildings impacted to further discuss the process and how to engage as we work together to implement solutions.
You know, the critical criteria and those furthest from educational justice has been front and center in this process since the beginning. Going forward, we want to make sure that we include them when making decisions by working with them to understand their perspectives and then co-designing solutions as well as optimizing opportunities. We will be scheduling meetings with each of these groups over the next month. I’m sure there are questions about how the decisions will ultimately be made, but all the input that we are collecting will be summarized and reviewed by the executive team and other leaders in our district. Ultimately, a decision will be made by the executive team and once that decision is made, we will be working with the schools to help them understand what the deciding factors were and to help plan the transition moving forward.
This is the meeting schedule for both the staff meetings and the community open houses at your buildings and we hope to see you there. Because really your input is very valuable to us in this process, we have not made decisions at this point. This is not just an exercise in gathering information for the sake of gathering information. We will truly be using this information to help us set a direction moving forward. And so, we hope that you take advantage of these meetings and share with us your thoughts, concerns, and the opportunities that exist as we go down this path.
Thank you for taking the time. I know this is really hard to hear. I know that you’ve got a lot of additional questions on your mind and a lot of various thoughts. I really appreciate all that you do for our kids in our community and look forward to working with you in the future.