A school’s loss may turn into government’s gain | TahoeDailyTribune.com

A school’s loss may turn into government’s gain

William Ferchland
Photo illustration by Rebecca Enerson / Tahoe Daily Tribune

After Kingsbury Middle School closes in two years, the site nestled among pine trees at the end of Lake Village Drive could become Douglas County’s next library or senior center or whatever.

County Manager Dan Holler has been in talks with Douglas County School District in leasing the property and using it for county purposes. Leasing the property means the school’s gym would still be accessible to students and the district could turn it back into a school if needed.

But enrollment projections don’t support the idea of Kingsbury returning to a school after it closes and is reincarnated as a county building.

Even when Zephyr Cove Elementary opens its arms to sixth graders and Whittell High School becomes a seventh- to 12th-grade site, enrollment declines are expected to continue.

Zephyr Cove’s enrollment of 234 students is expected to dip to 214 before consolidation begins at the 2008-09 school year. At that time, enrollment is expected to balloon to 249 at the school and level off.

Enrollment declines are also expected for Whittell. Even with the addition of sixth grade, enrollment is projected at 219 by the 2013-14 school year.

Board trustees are aware of the same enrollment trends in the Carson Valley, where older residents without young children are moving in. And it leaves them in a quandary.

“I don’t think there is anything we can do. Nobody is going to sell their house here for less money so kids can come in,” said trustee Cindy Trigg, who represents the Tahoe area on the board.

Two years ago budget cuts and enrollment issues forced Lake Tahoe Unified School District to close two schools (one reopened as a magnet school) while Lake Tahoe Community College has considered cutting courses and adding dormitories to combat a declining student population.

The counselor controversy

At a May trustee meeting where the budget for next school year was introduced, the option of not having a counselor at Kingsbury Middle School surfaced.

A counselor at the middle school was transferring to a valley school, prompting a decision: Whether or not to fill the position even though a school would be closing at the lake.

Trigg said much discussion went into the topic with an end result of filling the position on a one-year basis.

The discussion led Trigg to thinking staff problems could be an issue during the two years before Kingsbury, or Zephyr Cove, would close. Trigg said she was approached by some parents concerned staffing could be an issue in the two years before consolidation and asked if closing a year earlier could be discussed.

It triggered an outcry by some parents charging the board, which voted in March to close a school after the 2007-08 school year, would lose credibility if the closure was moved up.

It also prompted Pinon Hills Elementary Principal Rommy Cronin in speaking to the board Tuesday about her 487-student school has the same staffing levels as Zephyr Cove, which has half the number of students.

“Where is the equity?” Cronin asked.

Trustee President Connie Wennhold said she voted against closing a school in two years (instead wanting to move forward with a closure after next school year) because of the staff equity issues and saving $800,000 of Kingsbury’s annual operating costs.

The future

Last week Rich Alexander, assistant superintendent of human resources, said staffing issues will be addressed.

“We will make work whatever they decide,” Alexander said.

While the saying “teachers follow the students” is often used, Alexander would not rule out staff layoffs.

“Of course we’re going to do anything we can to avoid (layoffs) but there’s always that possibility,” he said.

At the Tuesday meeting, Kingsbury teacher Cindy Wells said morale was not an issue at the school until it was learned the closure date might move forward.

But the closure date was unmoved. Wennhold had faith in incoming Superintendent Carol Lark (from Las Vegas) and incoming Whittell Principal Sue Shannon (from Los Angeles) could use their skills in moving students and opening schools for the consolidation.

“I think they have a handle on how to do these conversions,” she said. “I think there’s plenty of time for them to make a plan.”

Enrollment projections

Zephyr Cove Elementary

— 2005-06 234

— 2006-07 219

— 2007-08 214

— 2008-09 249*

— 2009-10 247

— 2010-11 245

— 2011-12 245

— 2012-13 245

— 2013-14 245

Whittell High School

— 2005-06 232

— 2006-07 236

— 2007-08 221

— 2008-09 312*

— 2009-10 287

— 2010-11 269

— 2011-12 258

— 2012-13 234

— 2013-14 219

*Consolidation begins

Source: Douglas County School District

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