Board eyes new closure policy for Issaquah schools

April 1, 2014

By Neil Pierson

The Issaquah School Board is considering a new policy pertaining to school closures, which could have an impact on the proposal to shut down Tiger Mountain Community High School.

At its March 26 meeting, the board conducted the first reading of a policy that aims to clarify the process for closing a school, including the steps the superintendent must take and the timeline for soliciting public input.

The board could adopt the new policy at its April 23 meeting.

However, a potential closure of Tiger Mountain, the district’s alternative high school, likely wouldn’t be finalized for several months. The policy mandates a 90-day waiting period in which the board would hold at least two public hearings.

Talk of closing Tiger Mountain, which houses about 100 students, began in February. The district’s proposed plan would close the building during the 2015-16 school year and re-open it in 2016-17 with a revamped educational model. District officials are working with a consultant — the Puget Sound Consortium for School Innovation — to develop the new model.

The proposal received immediate backlash from the community, including several students and parents who spoke at board meetings.

District officials have said Tiger Mountain’s low graduation rate — 37.3 percent in 2012 — is a concern, while community members say the school provides a unique and safe learning environment that some children can’t get in Issaquah’s three comprehensive high schools.

At the March 26 board meeting, Issaquah School District Superintendent Ron Thiele explained the need for a policy. Six years ago, he said, Clark Elementary School was being considered for closure, but when that idea was rejected, a closure policy was also abandoned.

The “boilerplate” policy under consideration, Thiele said, comes from the Washington State School Directors’ Association. It’s simple and straightforward — one page in length.

“This is exactly what I was expecting as a stated policy,” board member Brian Deagle said.

If the policy were adopted, it would require the superintendent to prepare a written statement on the reasons for closing a school, as well as the effects of doing so. That report would be made available to the board and the public prior to any hearing.

Additionally, the district would need to announce the date, time, place and purpose of the hearings at least two weeks in advance.

“It does spell out a very clear process for public input,” Thiele said of the policy. “There are public hearings involved, and a very clear timeline.”

Emergency school closures would be exempt from the policy. For example, the board would have the authority to shutter a school quickly in the case of a natural disaster or a serious mechanical failure.

The 90-day process for soliciting input is a minimum guideline, said Jake Kuper, the district’s chief of finance and operations. But district officials said they believe the board should make a school-closure decision within 30 days of the final public hearing.

“You don’t want the input that’s creating your decision to get stale,” Kuper said. “We don’t feel that would be the best course of governance.”

Given the timing of the proposal, school board members said they would not want to hold public hearings during the middle of the summer when public attention is generally low.

Thiele said his plan is to bring a written proposal on Tiger Mountain to the board before the end of the school year, leaving time to schedule public hearings within a 90-day window between June and September.

 

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