Nampa school board trustees embraced tearful district patrons after a Monday vote to close four schools.
The proposal was years in the making but drew significant attention in recent weeks as trustees neared a decision spurred by looming maintenance needs and declining enrollment.
The Nampa School District has lost roughly 2,000 students over the last decade and faces hundreds of millions of dollars in needed building repairs. District staff proposed closing schools with the smallest number of students to limit costs, and trustees signed-off Monday.
“We live here, in your community, we’re your friends,” board chairwoman Brook Taylor said during the school board meeting. “It truly is a hard choice, and each of us have worked very hard to get to this place.”
An emotional Taylor hugged patrons who wore West Middle School gear, after trustees voted to close West and three other schools at the end of the school year. West, which opened in 1972, will be repurposed to host Union School and Nampa Academy, two non-traditional schools currently housed in aging buildings.
Centennial, Greenhurst and Snake River elementaries are also closing. The Centennial building will be decommissioned, and possibly torn down, while Greenhurst will host the district’s pre-school and online programs and Snake River will be retrofitted to house Gateways, Nampa’s alternative school for at-risk students.
Central Elementary, built in 1929, was also considered for closure among a handful of scenarios presented by district staff. But trustees voted to keep Central open, in part, because its central location would be beneficial when school boundaries are redrawn to transfer students.
“If I had it my way, all of our buildings would be up-to-date and brand new and have the nicest and the best of things for all kids because that’s exactly what they deserve,” said trustee Mandy Simpson. “Facilities that are amazing and they could be proud of and walk into every day and know that this community deeply cares about them.”
The Idaho Press first reported that Nampa was considering closing schools.
Enrollment declines as need for repairs climbs
Nampa, Idaho’s fourth largest school district, has seen enrollment plummet in recent years. Since the 2013-2014 school year, enrollment has gone from nearly 15,000 students to less than 13,000 this year.
That may be surprising to some, considering the city’s population has nearly doubled this century. But school district leaders in recent weeks have described a series of factors leading to declining enrollment.
For one, many Nampa newcomers are older and don’t have school-aged children. Additionally, housing development has focused on the outskirts of Nampa, outside the district’s boundaries. While the Vallivue School District to the west is growing, Nampa schools are shrinking.
And school leaders expect the downward trend to continue. Nampa’s current kindergarten class size is 841 students, down from 1,239 a decade ago. That number “really alarmed us,” Superintendent Gregg Russell said during a town hall presentation this month.
“That’s our first 800 we’ve seen,” he said. “It’s been a drastic drop.”
Statewide, public school enrollment this year declined by roughly 1,500 students, or 0.5%, just the second time since 2012 enrollment has dipped.
Meanwhile, school maintenance needs have increased. Last month, Nampa voters approved a $29.6 million, two-year supplemental levy, but those funds cover day-to-day operation costs, such as curriculum and teacher pay. Nampa’s deferred maintenance — a collection of unfunded school building repairs — is growing and will reach $149 million in four years “if some serious things aren’t done,” Russell said Monday.
The district’s plan to close schools could reduce its deferred maintenance by about $9 million, Director of Operations Cortney Stauffer said.
Simpson blamed the Idaho Legislature for rising maintenance needs. She asked that recent reporting from the Idaho Statesman and ProPublica, which has illustrated the state’s neglect of school facilities, be included in the Monday meeting’s official record.
No other state spends less on school infrastructure per student than Idaho, Simpson said, referencing the reporting.
“This is largely why we’re in the predicament that we’re in,” she said.
Residents worry about access to school resources
Nampa School District officials said they targeted schools for closure based on building condition, capacity and declining enrollment.
For example, the Greenhurst building is nearing the end of its useful life. Centennial has security vulnerabilities. And West has the smallest enrollment among middle schools by more than 100 students and it has the fastest-shrinking enrollment.
Yet, many Nampa patrons opposed the district’s plan. A recent survey found that parents with students in schools targeted for closure were particularly opposed.
Tony Johnson, director of Care House Partnerships, a Nampa nonprofit that supports food and medical services, on Monday urged trustees to consider the impact of forcing students to transfer schools.
Needy families often don’t travel far outside of their secure “bubble” to access food, medical care and other resources, which are offered at community schools, like Snake River Elementary, Johnson said.
“Please don’t minimize the impact transferring students to new schools will have on them and their family,” he said.
Scott Knopp, Nampa’s director of curriculum and instruction, said the district plans to maintain its current number of community schools. And maintaining resource centers — which offer after-school programs and physical and mental health support — is a matter of prioritizing funding to staff them, Knopp said.
“Our hope and vision is to not decrease the number of those and have them remain where they’re at,” he said.