Superintendent Aramaki poses outdoors with Odle Middle School students.

Dear Bellevue School District Community, 

Pausing the Consideration of a Middle School Consolidation 

I want to express my deep appreciation for every parent or guardian, student, staff and community member who attended a community forum, participated in a focus group, spoke at a school board meeting, or sent in an email or letter regarding the Middle School Consolidation Study. Over the past three months of this study, we listened to hundreds of people across the district. You shared what you love about our schools, what your hopes are for middle schools, and your ideas to help address our enrollment and budget challenges. District budgeting is a process involving numbers and calculations and can feel cold or distant; however, its impact is completely human and personal. I thank everyone for leaning in and engaging in this important conversation together.  

We committed to an equity-centered design process in September to study middle school enrollment. We scheduled dozens of engagement opportunities in multiple languages and in partnership with community organizations and leaders to ensure we heard from as many of you as possible, representing the great diversity of our community. The goal was to:  

  1. Understand the two demographers’ data. 
  2. Identify our community’s diverse needs, concerns, interests and priorities, and the problem we are trying to solve. 
  3. Synthesize and share back our collective vision, perspectives, concerns, hopes and priorities.  

All of this helped me determine whether to recommend middle school consolidation to address declining enrollment and budget challenges. 

I am proud of the work we did as a community to engage in tough conversations and begin problem solving together. Now, ahead of the expected January timeline we published, I am sharing with you — based on all the feedback, data and information I have reviewed over the past three months — I am not recommending any middle school consolidation for the next two years.  

What I Learned from the Community and the Factors Considered in Making the Decision 

First and most importantly, I heard from students. You have shown more agency and ability to advocate than I ever had as a student here in Bellevue. I have talked to or received letters and e-mails from so many of you across all our middle schools. You have spoken during public comment at School Board meetings, attended community forums, and made your voices heard in your school communities and beyond. In the end, here’s what I heard you say: You love your schools. You love your teachers (your stories about what your teachers mean to you are incredibly moving). You understand with incredible clarity what you have: amazing schools, great friendships, caring teachers, opportunities to pursue different passions, wonderful diversity of backgrounds and cultures, and the certainty of a supportive, nurturing environment in an increasingly uncertain world. And I am incredibly pleased that you feel that way. It is a compliment to every educator in our district and personifies what it means to be a part of a beloved community. 

Similar to what we heard from students, families also expressed a deep love for our schools. For example, 120+ families at the Highland community forum (including over 70 Spanish speaking parents and guardians) shared how much you value the high quality of education at Highland. Also, you shared the importance of the staff’s attention to academics as well as student well-being, the way students and staff reflect the diversity of our world, the opportunities for bilingualism, and resources for families on campus. Families at all our schools echoed this level of pride. Other themes shared by families and staff included: maintaining a high level of educational opportunities in schools; a skepticism about the projections and whether or not the projected decline in enrollment will truly come to fruition; questions about whether or not our innovation and marketing efforts would stem the declining enrollment; questions about whether or not the current enrollment decline was actually impacting middle schools; and a concern about whether or not the recommendation would truly be grounded in equity. 

A Process for Equitable Decision-Making 

Helping to ensure this middle school consolidation study was grounded in equity and followed our plan for an equity-driven decision-making process, we have two groups who met regularly to share process feedback with district leadership — the Superintendent Community Advisory Council (SCAC) and the Equity-Driven Decision-Making Committee (a subgroup of the Equity Advisory and Advocacy Collaborative). Both groups did their part to share honest feedback about the process, including sharing concerns about the pace of the decision making and expressing the need for additional time to deeply engage and build trust with members of our community who are most often left out of decision making. The work of equitable outreach takes time and is something we are deeply committed to as a district.  

I also connected with staff, students and families at three of the schools impacted by the elementary school consolidation last year, including those who recently attended the school board visit at Spiritridge. These communities expressed incredible optimism and appreciation for their new friends and colleagues. But I also heard families and staff share that the consolidation was hard on the human level for so many last year, and it continues to have its challenges. Some students transitioned seamlessly and made new friends quickly, while others found themselves continuing to struggle. Much of what I heard from my visits to these schools was that consolidation is not easy. The hard work of bringing communities together is just beginning when the decision is made, and the impacts should not be underestimated. There are still people grieving; and, if other options are available, those options should be seriously considered first. 

Budget-Related Factors 

In addition to studying the feedback from our community, we have also been busy in the background doing budget analysis work and looking at other options. Here are other budget-related factors, when connected to the community feedback, that helped me to make the decision to not recommend consolidation of a middle school at this time: 

  • Last year, we faced a $30 million budget shortfall. We were able to decrease our year-over-year expenditures by $24 million, in part due to the consolidation of two elementary schools. That hard work last year significantly improved our budget outlook this year and lessened the impact on future years. 
  • With the addition of innovative programs like the Arabic Language Program, statewide access to Bellevue Digital Discovery, and the expansion of new, high-interest courses like culinary arts and aviation, our enrollment this year actually increased slightly from the previous year. This was largely driven by the enrollment of non-resident students and some returning from private or home school. This helped to reduce our current budget deficit even more. Additionally, it showed the promise of the possible impact of creating innovative programs to attract more students and families to Bellevue. 
  • Now that we’ve closed our books for the previous year (see the budget presentation from the December 14 school board meeting), the 2024-25 school year budget shortfall is expected to be about $9.8 million (we anticipated it to be about $10 million). If our enrollment trends continue and costs continue to rise, we anticipate our budget shortfall to be an additional $30 million over the following two years. Consolidating a middle school would help with approximately $4 million of that shortfall (a savings accrued every year). However, my decision to not recommend consolidation at this point in time relies on a key difference from last year to this year — our projected decline in enrollment has not yet fully impacted middle schools as it has elementary schools. Our middle schools are currently large enough to operate effectively and efficiently. Waiting two years to reconsider this option will give us time to see if innovative programming, a potential post-pandemic rebound, and more affordable housing will reverse or minimize the projected enrollment decline.  
  • Our community needs to know that looking for $10 million in cuts to our spending will not be easy and will likely be just as challenging as considering a school consolidation. However, it is my opinion that it is a better alternative now for all the reasons above. If our efforts to increase enrollment do not reverse or at least stabilize the projected enrollment decline over the next couple of years, and our middle school enrollment is too small to operate five middle schools, we may revisit at that time. More specifically, we will not consider consolidation of a middle school for the 2024-25 or 2025-26 school years. By October 2025, I will update the community on where we are with enrollment and budget, and whether we need to resume a consolidation study. 
  • Finally, we are hopeful of the possibility of bringing in additional revenue through a change in how we collect local enrichment levy dollars. If approved by the legislature in a legislative “short session” which starts in January, applying the cost-of-living factor (aka “regionalization”) to what we can collect in our local enrichment levy would bring in an additional $10 million annually (approximately $4 million this coming year since it would start in 2025). We are also asking the legislature to continue to support fully funding special education, which is underfunded in Bellevue by approximately $30 million. 

The Work Ahead of Us 

Starting in January, the community conversation will shift from possible consolidation to budget prioritization and a call to action. This means we will be asking for your help and providing tangible ways you can help our school community. Together, we will find ways to reduce spending this year and across the next three years. We will continue to use our equity-driven decision-making process to support this effort. The district is also working diligently on legislative advocacy to address our challenges by bringing in additional funding for special education from the state and through our local enrichment levy. We also need our families and staff to partner with us in finding ways to bring in innovative programs that will help reverse the trend in declining enrollment. We are excited to be starting Hindi and Korean in the fall of 2024. This is the beginning of designing a school system for the future that excites and attracts families, staff and students. 

Here’s a tentative timeline as we look to the future: 

January 2024 

  • I will work with the School Board to develop a process for community engagement to prioritize our budget and expenditures as we look for ways to reduce spending 
  • District staff and our School Board will be working with our legislators to advocate for legislative options to help address our budget shortfall 

February – March 2024 

  • Equity-driven community engagement on budget prioritization 

April 2024 

  • Finalize Budget Plan 

October 2025 (two years from now) 

  • Update community on budget and enrollment at middle school and determine whether we need to revisit the consolidation study

Expressing My Gratitude 

I know this news will be welcomed by some and create stress for others. No matter what, I am more than confident that we will do more than survive during these challenging economic times. We will find a way to thrive and flourish as a community. I value the partnership we have with our educators, staff and our labor associations. I value the partnership we have with the Bellevue PTSA Council and our parents and families across the district. I value the partnership we have with the Bellevue Schools Foundation. I value the partnership we have with our legislators, Bellevue City Council and our City of Bellevue colleagues. And, I value the partnership with our students, who are truly creators of their future world. All of these partnerships will help us to weather the challenges as we build a strong foundation for the future of the Bellevue School District. 


Dr. Kelly Aramaki 

Dr. Kelly Aramaki, Superintendent

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.