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Two schools in Kent School District in review for closing

The Kent School District is considering closing Jenkins Creek and Cedar Valley Elementary Schools for the 2012-2013 school year.

The decision follows a meeting the school board held in Nov. 9 last year where they decided to look at closing a few Kent schools in lieu of impending budget cuts. The board will receive written closure analysis from staff and then make a final decision on whether to proceed with the closure process or not during a meeting Feb. 22.

"Over the last three years, the Kent School District, as well as all school districts in Washington State have experienced funding reductions in state and federal funding," said Kris Lofits, district spokesman.

In the 2010-2011 school year, the Kent School District lost $15 million in state and federal funding.

"Given the past funding reductions and anticipated funding reductions from the state for 2012-2013, the board of directors must look at all the possible options for dealing with another round of funding reductions," Loftis said.

Loftis said Jenkins Creek and Cedar Valley are being reviewed because they are the two smallest enrollment elementary schools in the district.

"I don't know quite yet how much money it will save," Loftis said. "One of the purposes in completing the written closure analysis is to determine what the fiscal impact of the closures."

If the decision is finalized, students, teachers and staff would be assigned to other schools within the district.

Many parents and community members are already unhappy with the school board for choosing Jenkins Creek and Cedar Valley.

Covington resident Jennifer Harjehausen has two children in the school.

"Closing a school is a big deal for families, for property values, for the surrounding community and most of all for our kids," Harjehausen said. "Closing a school leads to feelings of mistrust and would therefore have a negative impact on the upcoming Bond Campaign.  I worked on the most recent levy campaign and voters will not approve additional funding from their local taxes if the district does not listen to the people paying those local taxes."

Harjehausen is a part of a group of parents, alumni, teachers, staff and parents of Cedar Elementary that put together a campaign to save the school. "Save Cedar Valley Elementary" aims to educate people on the intended closure and promote action against it.

They have a Facebook page and a website, which is available at http://www.savecedarvalley.com/.

Because we are the most diverse and highest poverty school in Covington, our school serves as a site for unique opportunities," Harjehausen said. "It is possible to cost effectively target our kids with much needed services by the community that have already started, such as Century 21 grant and the Kindergarten Readiness camp run with our Kindergarten teachers’ volunteer time every summer. I fear that if our kids are scattered, they will lose these invaluable support services".

Karen Evans is the operations manager for Mountainview Vineyard Christian Fellowship, a church that partners with Cedar Valley Elementary.

"I am really disappointed in the school district," Evans said. "As an accountant by profession, I understand the need for budgets and cost savings, but we are very concerned that this decision has essentially been made, unfortunately without all of the facts, and it seems like the school district is just going through the motions to demonstrate due diligence."

"I understand that Cedar Valley has been a low performing school for many years, which is why our church made the decision to partner with Cedar Valley to see if we could make a difference in the lives of the children, staff, and families of Cedar Valley and the Timberlane Community," Evans said. "Partnerships like ours provide support that does not show up in the district's numbers and I just can't believe they are going to throw that all away so causually."

Evans suggests changing school boundaries within the district to address the low enrollment factor of Cedar Valley and relieve over-crowding in other Kent Schools.

"By closing Cedar Valley and moving the kids to other schools in the district, the district is making a low performing school simply disappear," Evans said. "Yet, unfortunately, those same kids are now in various schools without the necessary support structure to succeed."

The board will make the final decision on the schools during a March 28 meeting. If they decide to shut down the two schools, public hearings will be scheduled to get public input on the closures.

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