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School closures redux

Submitted by on 1, March 11, 2008 – 7:20 amNo Comment

People are working hard in this town to head off the nuclear-scale damage that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal would do to our schools. But even if the crisis is averted, the district may still opt to close some of them.

The impending fiscal apocalypse has brought rise to a new task force (see bottom of page) pledged to keep the district solvent in the face of any future budget crises, and to even out enrollment among its schools. The solutions to the current one, district staff told the school board a few weeks back, could include the closure of elementary schools or consolidation of the district’s middle or high schools.

Tonight, the board will consider the order in which it will undo its recent budget cuts, should the parcel tax pass. Undoing school closures is at the bottom of the list. (The tax is expected to bring in $3.9 million a year if it passes – an amount that far exceeds the proposed cuts.)

The closures – which could save the district about $300,000 per elementary school and upwards of $600,000 for a middle school – are one of several options the task force may consider, including the conversion of schools into magnets.

Spokeswoman Donna Fletcher said the task force’s charge is to provide the district with options that will hopefully provide benefits for all the district’s students, if the financial picture improves. But it probably goes without saying that, in a community that prizes neighborhood schools, the idea of closing some of them will spark a wee bit of controversy.

An earlier task force charged with solving capacity issues at the district’s elementary schools suggested in a draft report last December it would “likely consider reducing the number of elementary schools,” possibly by closing one or two schools. This despite the fact that enrollment is forecasted to rise by 235 kids over the next five years. (Ultimately, the task force suggested the district turn daycare space into classroom space at Edison, Otis and Ruby Bridges and eliminate the school choice option those who live on the attendance zone boundary lines enjoy; the board deadlocked on approving the recommendations.)

The task force hasn’t met yet, so it’s probably too early to say which schools could be slated for closure. Still, speculation about which schools could close is rampant (ahemFranklin, coughWood, aaahPadenchooo). And word is that Washington could make a nice arts magnet that could maybe … drawfamiliesfromhigherperformingschools.

The restructuring task force is set to meet for the first time Friday, Fletcher said; chief financial officer Luz Cazares told the board a few weeks back that it could be deciding on school closures by the end of the year.

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