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Arlington School Board unanimously approves Trafton closure

Bob Schimpf holds his daughter, Madison, 10, outside the Arlington School District administrative building on June 14 after the School Board voted to close Trafton School.  - Adam Rudnick
Bob Schimpf holds his daughter, Madison, 10, outside the Arlington School District administrative building on June 14 after the School Board voted to close Trafton School.
— image credit: Adam Rudnick

ARLINGTON - Many School Board members described it as the most difficult decision they've ever made.

But in the end, their vote was unanimous - Trafton School will close.

Despite a handful of verbal jousts from emotional meeting attendees, the Board voted on Monday, June 14, to shut down the 122-year-old school.

More than 50 community members, parents and students packed the Arlington School District administrative building for the meeting, which capped a three-month long review regarding whether the state's oldest continuously operated school should close.

The district is facing an anticipated $1.5 million budget shortfall in the 2010-11 school year. Shrinking state education revenue, paired with district-wide under-enrollment and Trafton's aging facilities, made the decision to close the school a possibility during this year's budget discussions.

District officials have said that closing Trafton would save the district about $258,000 in operating costs next school year.

"There's times when (being on the Board) is not easy, and this is one of those times," Board President Jeff Huleatt said, giving a quick synopsis of the events leading up to Board's decision. "It's not something that we want to do."

Currently enrolled students will most likely be moved to Eagle Creek Elementary School, or given their choice of other district schools, officials have said.

School supporters, including "Keep Trafton Alive" community group spokeswoman Terri Forslof, have contended that some of the district's estimations are not correct, adding that most of the needed school repairs could be done through volunteer and fundraising efforts.

Forslof, as well as other Trafton parents and students, erupted in sobs and tears once Board members were called to give their individual votes on Trafton's demise.

"Thanks for making the first year of school a bad one for my son," said Forslof, holding her kindergarten-aged son in her arms as she spoke after the decision. "This is his first experience of public education."

Forslof also issued a statement expressing displeasure with the Board's vote.

"With each challenge to the numbers put forward by the (subcommittee) in the past month, the school district has continued to revise the information it provided to the Board, proving that in the end, there are still more questions than answers and the full impact of this school closure is unknown," the statement said.

Trafton supporters said in the statement that they will be appealing the Board's vote in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Trafton students cried and held their parents as word of the decision spread from the Board meeting room to the dozens of attendees who stood in the hallway during the meeting. The number of people that could sit in the Board's meeting room was limited due to fire code restrictions.

Before that final decision was made, the public had one last chance to plead with the Board during its public input portion of the meeting.

One of those speakers was Lorne Wallitner, whose family moved to the area in 1884.

"By getting rid of Trafton, we make ourselves a lot like other districts," he said. "If that shuts down, we won't get it back ... There are more than numbers involved here."

The School Board held two public hearings on Trafton, as well as 18 community budget hearings, during the past 90 days.

On June 2, the school, which is on the National Register of Historic Places and the Washington Heritage Register, was placed on the Washington Trust's "most endangered" properties of 2010.

"The hope is that Trafton will remain open and continue to serve the community as it has for over 120 years," said trust representative Chris Moore in a release.

Despite that status, and other information brought forward by Trafton supporters, School Board members met and refuted most of those claims during a special study session devoted to the topic on June 8.

Board members and administrators during the two-and-a-half hour session appeared to shy away from some community members' ideas to close another elementary school or to solicit volunteers to donate labor and construction materials for Trafton repairs.

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

There is no word whether the school will be closed immediately or if the building will remain open throughout the summer after the school year concludes.

Trafton opened in 1888.

UPDATE: Arlington Superintendent Kris McDuffy has released a short statement regarding the Trafton closure.

Here it is in its entirety:

"Last night our School Board adopted a resolution to close Trafton Elementary School effective at the end of this school year.

This was a very difficult and emotional decision. After an exhaustive 90-day review the Board concluded that given our continued budget crisis, the excess capacity in our elementary schools, and the extensive facility needs at the school, it was in the best interest of the entire District to close the school.

These continue to be challenging times but this is an incredibly strong, resilient organization doing GREAT things for our students.

Thanks to our staff for all their work to maintain the focus — our students, their success."

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