ARLINGTON — The school board is likely to get an earful this evening.
Tonight's public hearing is the first of two chances for people to tell Arlington School District officials what they think about the possible closure of Trafton Elementary School.
Forced to address declining revenues, Arlington School Board members set a deadline of June 14 to decide the future of Trafton.
The proposed closure of the historic school building could save an estimated $275,000 at a time when the district is looking at a $1.8 million budget shortfall, school officials said. There is room at other elementary schools in Arlington for all the students who attend Trafton, and those schools are in better physical shape, officials said.
Closing the beloved school doesn't make sense to the parents and community members who formed the group Keep Trafton Alive.
It isn't just the fact that Trafton has been operating since 1888, parent Michael Ray said.
It's the close-knit, community based program offered at the elementary school that makes the idea of closing Trafton so hard to accept, Ray said.
Trafton Elementary serves 135 students, kindergartner through fifth grade, from about 70 families. The popular school has a waiting list of prospective students, he said.
“We're hoping to get hundreds of people out for the public hearing,” Ray said. “School board members are elected officials who are supposed to follow the wishes of their constituents. Sometimes I think they might forget that.”
Members of Keep Trafton Alive hope the school board recognizes the value of the school building and the program, he said. Letters supporting Trafton have been mailed to the school board and petitions asking that Trafton be kept open have been circulating throughout the school district.
“The problem seems to be that the only program the district seems to want to cut is Trafton,” Ray said. “It's curious to me that there are no other targeted reductions. And administrative salaries are not on the chopping block.”
According to a survey of school district superintendent salaries across the state, Arlington Superintendent Kristine McDuffy made $193,596 last school year. Hers is one of the highest-paid public school positions, according to the Washington Citizens Commission on Salaries for Elected Officials. The superintendent of Stanwood-Camano schools made $175,010 and the Marysville superintendent made $157,365 in 2008-09. Gov. Chris Gregoire made $166,891, according to the survey.
It would be easier to deal with this closure if there was some talk about cutting a percentage of the top salaries, Ray said.
McDuffy said administrative salaries were frozen this year. In addition, six secondary school teachers will receive their reduction-in-force notices next week and some classified staff may see pink slips in early June.
“I understand that (my salary) becomes an obvious target of concern for people,” McDuffy said. “Everything is still under review.”
Valerie Vognild Kellogg, chairman of another pro-Trafton committee, is the mother of two Trafton graduates and the aunt of a Trafton second-grader. She is not as concerned about administrative salaries as she is about the long-term use of the school.
“There must be a different way to deal with the money,” Kellogg said. “This is a temporary economic problem, and it would be short-sided to close this school.”
The possible closure of Trafton is under review by the school board in part because of the need for extensive building repairs.
The school uses several portable buildings that are about 20 years old, and there is no money to replace them.
“There is a long-term issue of the district not maintaining Trafton, turning down grant money, and now it looks like we're going to pay the price for it,” Ray said.
The school building is listed on the state Heritage Register and the National Register of Historic Places. Established in 1888, Trafton is considered among the oldest continuously operating schools in the state.
State law requires that the school district conduct a review before closing any school.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.