Arlington School Board holds special meeting to discuss Trafton, scheduled to vote on school closure June 14

ARLINGTON — Data and public input have been collected on Trafton School — it's now time for the decision to be made on whether it should close.

The Arlington School Board held a final discussion on the topic on Tuesday, June 8, capping a three-month long district review of the 122-year-old school.

The Board is expected to vote June 14 on whether the school district should close Trafton due in part to an anticipated $1.5 million budget shortfall, district-wide under-enrollment and aging facilities at the school.

Closing the school would save the district about $275,000 in annual operating costs, according to district officials.

But Trafton supporters, including the school's "Keep Trafton Alive" community group, have contended that many those district estimations are not correct, adding that many of the school's repairs could be done through volunteer and fundraising efforts.

The group's spokeswoman, Terri Forslof, has also told the Board that the school would see a 20 percent to 30 percent enrollment decline should the Board decide to close Trafton, which would likely cause the school's current students to enroll in Eagle Creek Elementary or other district schools.

With all of that in mind, Board members met for two and a half hours on June 8 with school district administrators, including Superintendent Kris McDuffy, during a special study session devoted to the Trafton decision.

"We are here tonight to make sure you have all the information you need," McDuffy told the Board.

During the discussion, Board members touched on many of the concerns brought up by community members, teachers and parents during the district's 90-day review of the school.

Board President Jeff Huleatt brought up whether the Board should consider closing a larger school, which had been discussed during the two Trafton public hearings on May 10 and 24.

Administrators said that closing another school would require a boundary re-adjustment within the district, and would only be a short-term solution to its under-enrollment challenges.

Huleatt said that closing one of the district's larger schools instead of Trafton could result in overcapacity in other schools.

"If we're looking for a long-term solution, closing another school doesn't seem to be an option," School Board member Ursula Ghirardo said.

School Board member Jim Weiss said that the district currently has a good balance of elementary schools feeding into middle schools.

"Changing that would affect the flow of students," he said. "That impacts the entire district. Do we want to tip the entire district for this?"

Ghirardo brought up whether the district could trim additional budgetary funds from other categories without touching Trafton.

Board members said that during last year's budgeting process, many of those funds were greatly reduced.

"In the next two to three years, those could all be cut too," said Board Member Bob McClure.

Another topic community members have asked the Board about is whether the district can charge tuition to Trafton parents.

McDuffy said that that can't happen, but added that monetary donations can be accepted by the district and earmarked for specific purposes, such as funding Trafton.

"The issue is should we be charging in community that way?" McDuffy said.

Community members have suggested that they could raise funds, donate labor and make repairs to Trafton, which could save the district from having to spend money on construction.

District officials have said that the district would have to spend approximately $1 million to bring the school up to standard.

Sid Logan, director of operations for the Arlington School District, said at the special session that only certain projects could be completed by volunteers.

Once a project is deemed a public works project, prevailing wage for the job must be paid, and the worker must carry liability insurance.

Repairs might also impact the school being part of the state Historic Register and the National Register of Historic Places.

"(Determining this) is going to take some more research," Logan said.

During the meeting, district administrators told Board members that Trafton does not have a waiting list for prospective students, nor do students at the school receive better test results, as some community members suggested at the public hearings.

Board members also seemed reluctant to embrace keeping Trafton students separate from Eagle Creek students should the district combine both schools.

"The concept is really nice, but there's no way that could be maintained," McClure said.

The June 14 School Board meeting will take place at the district administrative office (315 N. French Avenue, Arlington) at 6 p.m.

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