Lakeside opening second — cheaper — school in shadow of Space Needle

Lakeside will open a new, no-frills school next fall: The Downtown School, a “micro school” with a tuition that’s about half what Lakeside charges at its main campus.

Next fall, Seattle’s Lakeside School will open a new version of itself in downtown Seattle: a no-frills “micro school” that will cost less — and also offer less — than the prestigious, $33,000-a-year private institution.

The Downtown School won’t have sports and will have only a few elective classes. It will start with ninth- and tenth-graders and stay small — growing to just 160 students in grades 9 through 12. Tuition will be $17,500, about half what Lakeside charges.

The idea is to attract families that, like the city as a whole, are feeling the effects of the area’s growth, costs and traffic.

The original Lakeside isn’t hurting for applicants. Every year, hundreds apply to the school that counts Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen as alumni, and less than 20 percent are admitted. Others don’t apply because the yearly tuition is out of reach for most families, even with financial aid. Just getting to the campus on the very north end of Seattle can be a barrier.

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“We’re really looking at high-quality academic education, at a central location, at a price point that is more accessible for middle-class families,” said Sue Belcher, the Downtown School’s head of school.

Micro schools already exist in other cities across the nation, though there’s no official count of how many. One network, called AltSchools, has six schools in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York. The Downtown School, which is now accepting applications, will be the first micro in this state, according to the Washington Federation of Independent Schools.

Private schools typically try to be accessible to a wider range of students through financial aid and fundraising. But looking for other ways to keep costs low is also part of a new trend, especially in light of competition from charter schools and rising costs for buildings and teacher salaries, said Suzie Hanson, the federation’s executive director.

Other Washington private schools have explored less-expensive options, Hanson said. Renton Christian School, for example, offers an online high school with $5,000 yearly tuition.

“How do you maintain a high-quality staff, pay your staff well and have the infrastructure you…

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