Olympia School Board discusses building closures


The Olympia School District (OSD) Board used a new meeting format yesterday, opening with board member suggestions before committee presentations, which allowed members to formulate their recommendations on school consolidations. 

The district’s School Facility Efficiency Review Committee has held several work sessions these past months to work on recommendations to the board on maximizing facilities in the middle of budget limitations. 

 OSD President Darcy Huffman first clarified what the committee does, saying that budget matters are not within their scope. 

 “I want to point out that their work was not to look at our budget. Their work was to look at the efficiency of our buildings,” said Huffman. “Along with that came some financials and building numbers, and how many students each building hold[s], and what our projections were.” 

 Huffman then said that the session will let directors raise their own suggestions and explained that this process will outline areas that interest them, which are not necessarily similar to the committee’s priority concerns. 

 Board member suggestions 

On a work session yesterday, December 7, District 5 Director Scott Cliffthorne suggested that OSD needs multiple school closures.
On a work session yesterday, December 7, District 5 Director Scott Cliffthorne suggested that OSD needs multiple school closures.

District 5 Director Scott Cliffthorne questioned why the district has around 11 elementary programs for fewer than 10,000 students, and he suggested that the district follows through with the consolidations because “state legislature does not fund the kind of district that Olympia has built.” 

“School consolidation, or if you want to tear the Band-Aid off and call it school closure – multiple school closures is what we have to do in this community. We are spreading too little peanut butter over too much bread,” said Cliffthorne. 

Cliffthorne suggested consolidating at least three elementary schools – Madison, McKenny, and LP Brown as first options, and Reeves Middle School and Boston Harbor Elementary School as secondary options. 

Student Representative Aphrodite Torres was against the closure suggestions, and he recommended that making smaller middle schools focused on specialized programs might attract more students, thereby affecting the funding. 

“I'm concerned about middle schools – there's no way to create more equitable middle schools where students have better access to enrichments and services unless we change grade configuration or consolidate from those schools,” said Vice President Hilary Seidel. 

Seidel suggested a P-4, or 5-8 grade reconfiguration. This will move 5th graders to middle schools and will consolidate three to four elementary schools – LP Brown, Boston Harbor, Madison, and possibly McKenny. 

“I think that one of the reasons we heard so loud and clear from families [about] how much they loved their elementary schools is because they spent six years there, they built strong bonds with the faculty there, and families have plenty of time to get to know teachers,” said Seidel.  

Cliffthorne added that the district needs to attend to the new identity of the schools to be consolidated, saying that it is an opportunity to re-conceptualize what that school is.  

“For example, if the students at McKenny are going to Pioneer and going to Centennial in the future, one area for conversation would be those campuses potentially adopting new identities…because they will be different communities than they are today,” Cliffthorne explained. 

The meeting focused on listing the initial ideas of the Board of Directors and did not decide nor finalize recommendations. 

The board will meet again next Thursday, December 14, for its regular board meeting at which community members can send their comments in advance through email or comment live during the session.  


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