Following his updated recommendation to the Board on Thursday March 9, Interim Superintendent, Dr. Art Jarvis, took time to answer additional questions from local media outlets. The questions and answers are available in the transcript below. See our Frequently Asked Questions page for answers to updated questions from our community.
Can you just clarify for the school community what it is the district is trying to do?
I love that question because I think as much as we’ve tried it’s obvious that a lot of people don’t understand what we’re really trying to do. Yet, I think the focus on consolidation and closure is very real and very necessary but it’s only one part of the issue. So, the biggest issue that confronts us is that for the reasons we’ve stated we have fewer students in the school district. We will continue to have fewer students and the funding system will not support all of the people in the programs that we have right now. So, we’re looking at- for a while can we use up some of our fund balance. Can we secondly do some consolidation that would be much more efficiently effective in serving the students that we have? Can we look at ways of overtime, building a system to attract more students? Can we look at ways that through natural attrition of retirements and departures that we can shrink the staff without having to do major layoffs and cuts? So, it’s that whole combination. One leg of that is consolidation. And it is so painful if there’s a message that we have heard from people [that they] love their neighborhood schools in Bellevue – it’s been done beautifully in Bellevue and it the schools are gorgeous. [uh] Probably the best district that I know of in the state as far as staying up with modern schools, safe schools, good schools and we’re having to close some of those- that’s painful. But it’s just one piece of trying to say if we don’t do this, we have to erode the quality across the entire school district and we have to do cuts that-that remove people without regard or respect to the kind of programs we’re taught, we’re trying to maintain. And so, I just offer that with both understanding and I guess grace. All people are angry, I understand why they’re angry, but I also can explain to people why it’s essential that we look at that as a [as a] one part of the strategy to deal with the shrinking school district.
Why does the McCleary decision affect our school district?
It’s an interesting one. You heard me mention in a previous answer that part of the discussion we’re having about consolidating schools comes out of the budget issue, which really has its roots back as far as the McCleary decision. Short version is that for the better part of 40 years, Bellevue was allowed to collect a levy that was well beyond what others could collect locally. And that was continued over the many years. It allowed Bellevue to think in terms of these are things we want to continue beyond what the state is funding. Now that McCleary funding system came into being in 2018-2019. The reality is that we’re much more confined in our ability to raise more money and to go beyond what the state provides in prototypical funding. And so, in this particular case, we see a decline in enrollment and that’s leaving us with smaller elementary schools. Those smaller elementary schools are smaller than the funding that’s provided. I think the tendency in Bellevue would be let’s just use our local money to keep the schools we want and the size we want and not have the financial ability to do that. So, in essence, the McCleary effect on Bellevue is that we don’t get the freedom we used to have to add programs or support programs.
Would you please clarify what you mean by the “urbanization of Bellevue” as stated in the recent message from the interim superintendent?
Short version I don’t know if urbanization is the exact right term, but I would refer to two factors. One of which is fewer single homes and the what’s replacing them is multiple high-density housing. So just to carry that idea forward for a minute, we’re not seeing the number of young families and children generated out of the multi-density of the apartments the condos the townhouses to anywhere near what we would expect in our single residence Bellevue. So, we have a very interesting community as it’s urbanizing and seeing fewer young families and young children. The second way that that’s influencing us is that I’ll add that the urbanization means higher pricing and high in the really the homes and the purchase of homes where young families, moderate income families, are not able to purchase within the urban centers anymore, at least to the extent that they used to be. So, we neither have people moving in nor do we have people living in the apartments and condos that have young families and young children. And those two are presenting us with some very small kindergarten entries and fewer births. And that just feeds 12 or 13 years of smaller classes. I have mentioned that are entering kindergarten class this year was closer to 1,100 students. We’re graduating 1,600 plus students. So, you can see the immediate loss as each class graduates, replaced by a smaller group of younger children. And that’s the urbanization.
How can you make cuts to the budget and add new programs like language and others that are possibly being proposed for future years?
I can understand where that would confuse anybody as to how do you cut programs and then add programs simultaneously. Short explanation is the consolidations we’re talking about are the structure and the efficiency of the schools and having too few students to really fill those schools. So, we don’t have enough students for 18 elementary schools and that means shrinkage. Meanwhile is the challenge that I think is unique to Bellevue, and that is we have the potential to market to expand to grow. If you got me started, I would talk about rocketry and digital programs. I would talk about the businesses that surround us here and the expertise that’s here. The languages that we face in our community in a very disparate community. We need to create overtime programs that will meet those needs and provide opportunities for choices and new really programs that look to the future. So, the one we’ll be dealing with cuts in terms of the current enrollment and current housing of students and efficiency. And the other will be building programs long term that will draw students and attract Bellevue and really continue the tradition of Bellevue having outstanding programs.
What is being done to attract new families?
An example would be recently you saw a switch in the recommendation to do we close Ardmore and then reopen it with a good idea an Innovative program or do we try to transition it and, ultimately, change the recommendation rather than close it, that the request of parents to give them a chance and the staff to transition. The example of that is the exploration of adding Arabic language program at Ardmore. That addition will probably result in even initially almost 140 more students that would come to Ardmore. And that would begin to offset the very small enrollment that they have. So, it’s a how do we create programs that will attract more students. And that’s the short version.
This is an off-the-cuff question but following that, why not just do that for all the schools why not just add a language?
Number one is it’s not just one solution. So, it’s not just looking at heritage languages. We recognize that there are other languages that will be sought after whether that be Korean or French or Hindi or other languages. But beyond that would be schools that have interest in developing more sophisticated extended programs in arts, performing arts, in science, in space. I challenge we had two teams that the first and second nationally in rock country competition at Newport High School. We need to have rocketry solidly embedded in our curriculum not just as an extra after school activity. So, I say that because as you look around the Bellevue School District, there’s immense potential. We’re going to try to build a system that attracts students. We’re going to try to build a system that adjusts to what we call the urbanization earlier. We’re going to build a system that allows people to be as innovative and creative as possible. We’re going to build a system that attracts families and students to Bellevue and to the schools. And in there will be some unknowns in the future. We may continue to go down that path of getting smaller as a as an urban district, but it would not be falling off a cliff. It would not be some huge Readjustment or layoff or reduction it would be a shrinkage over time. My prediction is that Bellevue is this attractive place that will stabilize and then you’ll see it fairly flat for perhaps a 10-year period. And then you may well see Bellevue start to grow again because it is so attractive, and it provides wonderful education for kids.
What would it mean if we postponed closing schools?
It predominantly means that we would not close the schools for another year in hopes that something would change. And that’s where I would question that strategy is that there’s nothing particularly that we’re looking at in terms of enrollment or staffing or funding systems that would be different. We would have used up a lot of funds to hold our own for a year and then face the exact same problem a year from now. Looking at it the other way would be if the board made the determination that they wanted to take up a different look at it, a different route, they could buy some time, but it would be a very costly buy. Meanwhile, I think it’s confusing and perhaps misleading to think that the only issue in the table is consolidation. It is just one part of how we reduce an almost 30-million-dollar budget deficit. So, the six million dollars we would save through consolidation, or non-consolidation, would just add to the other elements that we have to reduce. The stabilization layoffs, things that we would have to take care of anyway beyond the consolidation. So, it is not a solution that you can just say we’re going to buy a year and do nothing. Our deficit is too large for that.
Does consolidation still require cuts?
Yes. Short version: absolutely yes. Consolidation is speaking towards about six million dollars in savings and the shortfall and the deficit, if you will, is close to, it’s actually over 30 million dollars. So, there will definitely be a reduction made in other ways. We talk again attrition – where we will have some staff retiring, resigning and that gives us a way to pick up some of that deficit. But even that’s not enough. So, we’ll be looking at shrinking(s) at the central office, shrinkage the buildings. looking at programs that may need to be reduced. All of which is very real and will definitely take place.
Dr. Jarvis can you address the anxiety the staff is feeling around the potential consolidation?
Absolutely, and I think we should take a good stab at it here and I mean that in the sense of how do we let people know what’s seemingly ahead for them and I’m going to address that in two ways. Let me take a stab at it. If we do not consolidate schools, we lose the potential to save about six million, 6.1 million dollars. That will cause us to turn towards reductions somehow or other in the finances of the district and programs. And 85 percent of our budget is people, so it gets to people. So, the fewer cuts we can make in operating building and building costs, the more we have to rely on fewer staff and less payroll and salaries and benefits. So let me just stop there with that first that one concept. That one, with the potential consolidation and saving six million dollars, that’s the equivalent of about 60 staff member positions that we have to look for reductions in in the district. So first just establish that piece. The second piece is probably equally confusing and that is that we have students in the buildings and, as a wise person said recently, it’s not about the buildings, it’s about the number of children in the buildings and providing education for those children. So, what we have to do after we consolidate is to say we’ve got a need for this many staff members, and then try, as we’re trying, to say how do we keep the people the staff members with the children who are being transferred to every extent possible? We’re all aware of the fact that if there’s a second-grade teacher in the building and a second-grade teacher coming in the building with their students, we may well have to look at other grade levels or other assignments. But we’re trying hard to have the staff that knows the children be able to go with the children as a as a first option wherever possible. And then when not possible, to still be able to say if we’re not doing a formal layoff or formal reduction in force then those people have jobs. And I may have to transfer them to another school or another classroom but that they have jobs. The last is just the knowledge that as we have fewer students over the years, we will have fewer students but that’s where you keep hearing this word attrition–that there also will be people who resign people who retire year to year. And when we can stabilize the system on the attrition, rather than a forced layoff of I need to reduce 60 teachers, there’s a huge difference in the impact on staff and students and families and it’s much more stable. So, we’re trying to rely on attrition, we’re trying to rely on moving staff with the children that they know is to every extent possible, and it does result in fewer buildings, but it does also give us staff that love their kids, they want to be there with them, they understand them, and they’ve got some superb programs for them.