Last June the Facilities Advisory Committee was created by the Board of Trustees to deliver a set of recommendations providing direction to the Board on how it might "maximize the use of its facilities to both serve the community and perhaps generate revenue." They were formally tasked with "analyzing enrollment projections, school boundaries, school capacities, and all facilities conditions." They were additionally to "explore potential revenue generating solutions and other necessary facilities in neighborhoods that may be lacking."
The committee got straight to work, meeting bi-weekly for the next nine months, hearing from demographers and other experts, consulting with the public and ultimately delivering their report and recommendations at the April 13 Board meeting.
What precipitated the need for the committee and the review was a stark change in the demographics of the communities that make up Evergreen, a trend seen across the county. Ever-growing housing costs impacting those who can afford to live in the area, coupled with a much-reduced birth rate stemming from the deep recession that took hold in 2008, meant there would simply be fewer school-aged children to attend school. The Board wanted to delve further into the numbers, looking at exactly how many children are in the school system, what alternatives those families may be exploring for their education needs, and how new programs might play a role in student retention, as well as to potentially attract out-of-district students to Evergreen.
While the Board will ultimately need to explore a holistic approach to both addressing the reality of a reduced pool of students, and preferred steps to take to create programs that makes ESD an appealing place for families to want to be, there is a current need to look at the resources available to the existing student body. The FAC had this need in mind as they came up with recommendations they felt addressed the immediate and mid-term needs of the District.
These recommendations took into account the number of students projected to be in each class in the coming years and included repurposing two schools, Dove Hill and Laurelwood. Both of these schools are in the section of the District that appears to bear the brunt of the declining number of children, leading to the suggestion that the five schools in the area may be too many for the expected number of prospective students. Additional recommendations including moving the District Office to one of these sites and using current DO land as a potential revenue-generating space, and exploring other revenue-generating options for other ESD properties.
The Board is not obligated to adopt these recommendations but agreed to take them under advisement as it makes decisions related to the District's facilities. At the April 13 Board meeting, held at Laurelwood, the Board unanimously voted to "(accept) the Facilities Advisory Committee report but (with) no action to be taken." After hearing from dozens of active parents and community members on April 13, there was clear passion surrounding the discussion and the committee recommendations, a passion not lost on Board members sympathetic to the diverse community concerns, while also needing to creatively address the demographic challenges facing the District. The Board saluted the community members for their testimonials and expressed their appreciation for the constructive suggestions presented that evening.
Other than accepting, with gratitude for their hard work, the committee's report, the Board took no action at the April 13 meeting. Each Board member emphasized that this was the beginning of the discussion, rather than the end. Board members spoke of further community consultations and idea generation in the months ahead. With no precise timetable in place, the Board is preparing to settle into the next phase of discussion and deliberation, a conversation they suggested was not always going to be an easy one, but one that was necessary and one that could ultimately build upon the strengths of the District and the community leading to a stronger School District.