Columbia Elementary School will close at the end of the school year after a unanimous vote to do so Tuesday night by the Wenatchee School Board.

Wenatchee Board Votes Unanimously To Close Columbia Elementary

A public comment period took place before the vote in which teachers and parents expressed their thoughts on the closure.

WestSide High School math and science teacher Brian Herling was one of the few speakers voicing support for the closure, saying it would preserve jobs

"Consolidating buildings allows us to keep more of the true wealth of our district, our people," said Herling, "Cutting the maintenance of a building from our bottom line will keep us from cutting more positions and jobs."

Columbia Elementary 5th Grade Teacher Aaron Gahringer spoke against the closure, saying the district is rushing to shut down Columbia without considering any options.

"This decision has been poorly managed from the start and it hasn't improved," said Gahringer. "The closure isn't as much of a cost-savings as has been projected. The decision is not what’s best for our students and the community that surrounds them. There are other options. But those options were left intentionally unexplored.”

Some parents and teachers said the closure of Columbia Elementary would be harmful to the Hispanic community, given that a large majority of its school's students identify as Latinx.

The public comment period lasted about 40 minutes.

Members of the school board then made a motion to vote on the closure before each of the five members spoke over another 40-minute-plus time period.

Board member Martin Barron said that delaying the closure would compound the district's budget problems.

"I believe that the option to delay one year would be disadvantageous, perhaps even dangerous," said Barron. "The enrollment decline has accelerated. Much district revenue does not increase to pay for inflation, which has recently been abnormally high."

Miranda Skalisky, who won her board seat in last November's election, said the district improved its response to the public after early stumbles when announcing the closure plan.

"I agree the district didn't communicate effectively with its proposal on the closing," said Skalisky. "And there was conflicting information shared on all platforms on what was happening, or what would happen. I acknowledge since then that our district has made an attempt to improve and provide effective communication to the public. I have seen accountability being had among district and cabinet members."

School board president Julie Norton said she was let down by the disparaging behavior of some people opposed to the closure.

"I understand it's an emotional decision for many families and staff," said Norton. "It's been a little disappointing to hear some of the staff and parents that are opposed to the closure demeaning or disrespecting the other staff in our district. I think ultimately that we need to keep in mind that we are one district. And regardless of the decision, we need to work together."

The school board passed Option One of two plans to cut the district's $9 million deficit. Option Two would have put off the closure of Columbia Elementary for one year, but would have left a larger shortfall moving forward.

In the next school year, the students displaced by the closure of Columbia Elementary will be sent to two adjacent schools – Lincoln and Washington. (A number of students who chose to attend Columbia from other areas in the district will likely return to schools they would’ve normally attended.)

There will be a nearly 50-50 split of Columbia students reassigned to either Lincoln or Washington schools.

A small number of students will have to take a bus to school under the new arrangement.

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Gallery Credit: Reesha Cosby