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After COVID crisis cut to enrollment, Capitol Hill’s private Bright Water says will close after school year

Happier times as Bright Water held its Medieval Games in Volunteer Park in 2018

The COVID-19 crisis has sickened more than 25,000 and claimed nearly 800 lives in King County. The economic toll has included dozens of Capitol Hill businesses including restaurants and independent retail shops.

You can add a Capitol Hill private school community to the sad tally.

Waldorf-focused Bright Water School has announced that it will close after the 2020-2021 school year.

“The pandemic has painted the school into a financial corner from which we can find no escape,” the board said in its announcement to parents and guardians of the independent school that calls Saint Mark’s North Capitol Hill campus home.

Board chair John Healy said the closure stems from a downturn in enrollment during the crisis as families face new choices and challenges with ongoing distance learning and work from home requirements.

“A 25 percent drop in enrollment created an $850,000 hole in the current year’s budget,” the board’s announcement reads. The board says that reserves, rent deferral from Saint Mark’s Cathedral, and federal PPP aid enabled the school to stabilize operations for the school year but put Bright Water at a point of no return when it came to plans for continuing.

Bright Water reports an enrollment of around 175 students. Tuition for grades one to eight runs $22,000 a year.

Healy says the school has the resources required to complete the current academic year and is making the announcement now to give families time to plan.

The decision is unrelated to planning underway at Saint Mark’s over possible redevelopment of the buildings Bright Water calls home, Healy said. CHS reported here on the cathedral’s early examination of possible redevelopment plans for its St. Nicholas building home to Gage Academy and the pre-K to eighth grade Bright Water School. A consultant has recommended changing the building into a multi-family residential development.

In its announcement, the Bright Water board described the lead-up to COVID’s impact on the school, describing the financial status of the institution as “operating within thin but workable margins”.

“While enrollment had gently declined since the 2008 financial crisis, it was holding at a sustainable level,” they write. “The school had added important capacity to begin to bend the enrollment curve upward. We had contributed to our reserves for five consecutive years and our financial and operational management was stronger than ever, due in large part to the efforts of our new Head of School, Chaya Keefe. We began a long-term facilities plan in line with our accreditation work. The gains were tangible: a new play structure, salary increases to median levels for teachers in Seattle, and significant process improvements that raised the level of operational management.”

The board says it has considered multiple options but each would leave Bright Water as a “severely diminished program.” Meanwhile, they say, Saint Mark’s is not in a position to secure a long-term discounted lease for the school to address Bright Water’s largest expense.

At Bright Water, Healy says attention is now on completing the school year, continuing remote learning efforts with “a gradual return to campus beginning soon,” and sorting out what comes next.

Bright Water started out of a North Seattle home and grew to a community of nearly 200 students in just over 20 years. Some families and faculty, Healy says, are looking to the future, with early discussions about a new school to replace Bright Water.

Capitol Hill and Central District COVID-19 Crisis Closures: CHS has tried to confirm all reported statuses. Please let us know if any information needs to be updated chs@capitolhillseattle.com -- LAST UPDATED: 11/11/20

Food and drink

  • Barca, announced 11/11/2020
  • Suika, lease issues, announced 9/27/2020
  • Juicebox Cafe, announced 9/28/20
  • Heritage Distilling Capitol Hill, announced 9/25/20
  • Amandine, closing 9/30/20 announced 9/25/20
  • Bar Sue, announced 9/25/20
  • Marination Station, announced 9/14/20
  • Ha Na, announced 8/27/20
  • Intrigue Coffeehouse, announced 8/21/20
  • Nates Wings & Waffles, Happy Grillmore and the Central District Ice Cream Company, announced 8/6/20
  • Americana, Broadway, announced 7/23/20
  • The Lounge by AT&T and Ada’s Discovery Cafe, E Thomas, announced 7/7/20
  • Bill's Off Broadway, E Pine, announced 6/24/20
  • Stumptown, 12th Ave, announced 5/26/20
  • Adana, 15th and Pine, announced 5/21/20
  • Tougo, 18th and Union, announced early April, Yesler location remains open
  • My Thai, 10th Ave E, closed but we're not sure when it shuttered

Retail and more


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Nope
Nope
1 month ago

$22k for zoom school ? The rich are different than the rest of us…

bb
bb
1 month ago
Reply to  Nope

In all fairness, they did offer generous financial aid to families that couldn’t pay the full tuition.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
1 month ago
Reply to  Nope

Ummmm – Seattle public schools have a budget of about 1.4 billion and an enrollment around 54,000 – that’s $26,000 per student.

Tom
Tom
1 month ago
Reply to  CD Neighbor

Talk about bending over backwards to say private school parents aren’t rich, don’t raise taxes on their million dollar homes please. How many parents can shell out $20k a year per child just for tuition?

Let’s have SPS give away $26k to families so they can all send their kids to Lakeside and Bush School. Those private school parents will love it.

CD Neighbor
CD Neighbor
1 month ago
Reply to  CD Neighbor

You are making some crazy assumptions… I wasn’t making any comment about taxes at all. It was just a reaction to the first commenter that appeared to be suggesting that $22,000 is a ridiculous amount for a year of school- when it appears clear it is not…. It’s simply the going rate to educate a child in this city, in the present time. In point of fact – it rather seems to clarify that we are not over taxing for education, wouldn’t you say? Take a little deep breath dude. Seattle voters have, as far as I can recall, never failed to approve a school tax – even all of us evil home owners.

HTS3
HTS3
1 month ago
Reply to  CD Neighbor

Well, to be clear, the $22,000 a year is in addition to the $26,000 a year we are already taxing ourselves for each student. So I do think it’s worth commenting that some people are choosing to spend an additional $22,000 a year, and substantially more than that at some private schools, in addition to the money we are each already contributing to public schools. It’s too bad that our public schools have the, in some cases justified, reputation that so many feel the need to go the private route.

PWK
PWK
1 month ago

Bright water was a strange school, hanging by a thread for years. Their overhead was very high.

FYI bush is Way more than 22, 000 and they want big donations on top of that.

RWK
RWK
1 month ago

This is unfortunate. Is Bertschi School next?