Parents, community implore Arlington School Board to keep Trafton open

Historic school could close due to projected budget shortfall

ARLINGTON — The message was clear to the Arlington School Board — keep Trafton alive.

On May 11, more than 200 parents, students, teachers and community members packed Presidents Elementary School during the first of two public hearings on whether the school district should close 122-year-old Trafton School in response to its projected $1.6 million to $1.8 million shortfall.

More than 25 residents voiced their opinions during the roughly two-and-a-half hour hearing, which was moved from the Arlington School District office to the nearby elementary school multi-purpose room to accommodate the larger anticipated audience.

Nearly all of the hearing attendees who spoke did so on behalf of keeping the school open.

Terri Forslof, Trafton parent and graduate, as well as spokeswoman for the Keep Trafton Alive community group, said that parents want their children to attend the school-of-choice because it is a small, community based school where everybody knows one another.

Because of the limited number of students Trafton can enroll, the school has a waiting list for children whose parents wish to send them there.

"Closing Trafton would be a permanent solution to a short-term problem," said Forslof.

Parent Teacher Club President Kelly Roundy, accompanied by community members on guitar and banjo, led a group of about 25 Trafton students in a rendition of the song "My home's along the Cascade Mountains."

Students then went up and handed School Board members essays and art work that they had done about what Trafton School means to them.

Parent Shannon Oquist said that children who attend larger schools don't get the same level of attention from teachers and staff that students at smaller schools such as Trafton do.

"Are you going to look at these children and tell them that all that history is going away?" said Oquist.

Closing the school would save the district approximately $273,000 in operating costs and about $1 million in construction costs required to renovate the building, according to a facilities report prepared by district staff.

Because of the district's projected budget shortfall, the School Board in March voted to approve a 90-day review process to see whether closing the school is a viable option.

Since then, members of the Keep Trafton Alive group, as well as parents and school staff, have been attending a number of Superintendent Kris McDuffy's community budget forums. One of the best-attended of those 18 forums took place at Trafton in early April.

Trafton supporters have also been putting up signs throughout Arlington, writing letters to members of the School Board and public officials and soliciting grants from companies and organizations to help pay for some of the school's renovations.

Those supporters, including Michael Ray, chair of the "Keep Trafton Alive" parent club sub-committee, have also called for a reduction in administrative salaries to help reduce the district's projected shortfall.

Ray said that he'd like to see a 10 percent cut across the all administrative salaries.

"We are the 54th most populated school district, but our superintendent is the fourth highest paid," Ray said in an e-mail dated May 5. "I think they can take a small cut in pay."

Ray was not able to attend the May 10 meeting because he was out of the country and was unable to elaborate on his e-mail.

After the hearing, Roundy said she was happy with the turnout.

"My personal goal was for the Board to see that community passion and that's exactly what they got," Roundy said. "I'm really happy that they got a chance to speak. We're in the middle of a journey here."

McDuffy said that she saw a lot of committed, passionate families during the hearing.

"We understand that and appreciate that," she said. "As many of the speakers said, nobody wants to close the school. Anytime there is talk about closing a school, it's excruciating."

Despite the emotion shown by members of the audience, Board President Jeff Huleatt said that the Board can't make their decision based on emotion.

Huleatt said that Board members have received between 50-70 correspondences in the form of letters and e-mails concerning Trafton.

"We've pretty much heard it all," he said. "Just to hear from the variety of people who expressed themselves was good."

The School Board will hold a second public hearing on Trafton on May 24 and could make a decision on Trafton June 14.

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