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Gazette Premium Content D-11 recommends closing Wasson, 2 elementary schools

KRISTINA IODICE Updated: January 9, 2013 at 12:00 am

Wasson High School and two elementary schools should be closed, according to preliminary recommendations presented Wednesday to the Colorado Springs School District 11 board.

The proposal to close Wasson is packaged with a plan to combine the district’s alternative programs with new offerings at the Wasson campus.

Under another recommendation, Bates and Lincoln elementary schools would close, with students spread among Jackson, Edison, Audubon and Fremont elementary schools.

“District 11 has to reinvent itself,” said board member Sandra Mann.

She and other board members expressed concerns over costs and details of the district administration’s plan during the two-hour work session.

If approved by the school board, the roughly 1,300 students enrolled in the three schools would attend somewhere else for the 2013-14 school year.

The proposal would convert the Wasson campus into a center that would include an early college, career and alternative programs.

An early college program is a new concept for the district, and would allow students to graduate with a high school diploma and college credits or an associate’s degree. Some charter schools, including Colorado Springs Early Colleges, offer the option.

The Bijou School, Night School, Achieve K-12 and other programs would be moved from across the district. Many of them are at the Irving Educational Center, which was converted to accommodate them after Irving Middle School was closed in 2009.

Irving and Whittier, which became home to the Bijou School in the 2009 round of closures and consolidations, would be repurposed. Programs moved from Tesla Educational Opportunity Center would free up space that could generate revenue by renting it for meetings.

If closed, Bates and Lincoln elementary schools also would be repurposed.

“These are really difficult conversations,” said D-11 board Vice President LuAnn Long.

Combining alternative programs at one location offers more options for students, although the change would be painful, she said.

Principals and staff at schools listed in the proposals were notified before the recommendations were announced at Wednesday’s board work session, Superintendent Nicholas Gledich said.

Although the recommendations came with minimal boundary changes, high school boundary changes are possible.

Current boundaries are vertical when viewed on district maps, and one option is to redraw boundaries so they are more diagonal across the city, said Glenn Gustafson, chief financial officer for D-11.

“You will be moving a lot of students,” he said.

Board member Al Loma said changing the boundaries could resolve the concern that bringing many Wasson students to nearby Mitchell High School would create a school where most students are considered at-risk.

Significant boundary changes would disperse the students, and give students great access to better models among their peers.

“Otherwise you’re asking for trouble,” he said.

Board member Bob Null said be believed the board had made a commitment to give Wasson five years to prove itself — the recommended closure cuts that time short by a year.

He also said that changing or closing middle schools should have made the recommendation list since issues at that level might have to be dealt with in the future.

“I don’t want to go through this again,” he said.

Gledich said plans presented Wednesday could create $2.5 million to $2.7 million in recurring savings. However, that tally did not take into account the costs involved in closing schools.

One-time costs for new transportation needs, building modifications and other changes was not included, and heavily depends on final boundaries, officials said.

“When we close schools we may save money, but it also costs money,” Gledich said.

The “action items” evolved from a dozen proposals aimed at improving the use of school sites in the Pikes Peak region’s largest district that was presented to the board in December. Public meetings were held to collect comments.

Four additional ideas, including the repurposing of Wasson for all alternative programs, grew out of those conversations as well as input from students and other groups, district officials said.

As many as six schools were on the first public list for possible closure: Wasson, Mann Middle School, and Bates, Lincoln, Edison and Midland elementary schools.

A similar study that began in 2008 eventually led to massive school closures and modifications.

Four public meetings on the recommendations under the “Optimization of Utilization Plan” are scheduled, starting Thursday.

Other items discussed at the work session included managing the system where students obtain permits to attend schools outside of the regular attendance area and preparations for a bond question or mill levy override initiative. The ballot item would be brought to the board for the November election either this year or next.

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WHAT HAPPENS NEXT
The recommendations presented Wednesday could change as more details and public comment emerge. District staff will work on cost estimates and possible boundary changes, and address questions from board members.

• Jan. 23: Proposals presented to the D-11 board as a discussion item.

• Feb. 6: Board vote expected on the plan.

Contact Kristina Iodice: 636-0162 Twitter @GazetteKristina Facebook Kristina Iodice

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