The Wenatchee School Board will decide the fate of Columbia Elementary School after two highly attended public hearings.

About 80 people attended the most recent hearing with almost all of the roughly 50 speakers voicing opposition to the closure.

Washington Elementary third-grade teacher Jill Reinfeld was one of three people endorsing the school closure.

"Now is the time for change," said Reinfeld. "As agonizing as it may be the board must vote to close Columbia Elementary at the end of the school year.  To extend another year only perpetuates the financial burden and it’ll ultimately create greater hardships in the future for everyone.”

Columbia fourth-grade teacher Liz Kazemba was one of the many speakers to oppose the closure. She said moving students to the two adjacent schools would overcrowd classrooms.

"A full-capacity school is not a good thing," said Kazemba. "Twenty-seven kids per classroom in every classroom is not OK.

Before the comment period, Superintendent Kory Kalahar presented the reasons why the district is choosing to close the school.

He said Columbia is the second smallest school in the district with 341 students

It has experienced a declining enrollment of 26.5% in the past eight years.

He said nearby Lincoln and Washington elementary schools have more space to accommodate Columbia students.

Also, fewer students will need transportation services and can be added to existing bus routes.

Kalahar also stated that a lack of vacant land in the area minimizes population growth to provide new students.

The district attributes its declining enrollment to an increase in education options locally, a decrease in birth rates, and an increase in housing costs.

The option to save the district $8-9 million going into the net school year includes these elements:

  • Close Columbia Elementary school to save $2.9 million
  • Place all three middle schools on the same schedule, which would save $2 million
  • Change the high school schedule by reducing the number of classes from eight to six. Instead of taking four classes one day and four classes the next day, high school students would take the same six classes each day. The move would save $660,000 annually.
  • Make additional staff reductions to save $1 million.
  • Reduce spending on district materials, supplies, and operating costs would save $2.5 million

The hearing was bilingual with Spanish translation from an interpreter

School districts are required by state law to hold public hearings in a 90-day period before closing public schools.

The school board will decide whether to close Columbia at its May 14 meeting.

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Gallery Credit: Reesha Cosby

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