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The McMahon with the plan

Submitted by on 1, July 6, 2009 – 6:00 amOne Comment

washington-schoolThe school district has been working on a master plan for how it schools our kids, and school board President Mike McMahon has been dutifully updating us along the way with a series of blog posts on Alamedans.com.

His latest entry is about the impacts of consolidating or closing schools, a hot topic for parents who have been confronted with that possibility over the last couple of years. From the sound of it, closing a school would be a tough thing for the district to do – and it might not save the district enough money to cover ongoing, multi-million-dollar state funding cuts.

According to McMahon’s post, closing an elementary school would be “very difficult” to do because the district is contractually obligated to limit class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 20 students. (Negotiations for a new teacher contract are ongoing.) “If you eliminate K-3 class size reduction of 20:1 then consolidation of elementary schools becomes possible,” he writes.

Still, McMahon says closing an elementary school and increasing the number of kids on each elementary campus “could be problematic,” and also that educational research shows that kids learn better at smaller schools.

Closing an elementary school could save the district between $300,000 and $500,000 a year – provided the parents whose kids were enrolled at that school don’t petition the district to take the school charter. (When Franklin Elementary last closed, the school site became a Redwood Day school; at proposed basic funding rates for next school year, the loss of just 93 students to a charter or private schools would wipe out the district’s savings.)

McMahon says the district has 4,369 students in its 10 elementary schools, including 150 elementary students from outside the district (all told, the district has 475 kids from outside of Alameda). The schools can hold 4,581 students. (If the district followed the suggestion some folks have made to boot all of the out-of-district kids, it would technically have the capacity to shutter one of two schools – Franklin or Washington – based on December 2007 school enrollment figures.)

Closing a middle school or high school could save the district more money – $500,000 to $700,000 for a middle school and $1 million to $1.25 million for a high school – but the district could be hard-pressed to find a space to accommodate a greater number of students, McMahon writes.

Meanwhile, the district could lose $6 million a year in state funds if the governor’s budget passes as-is, Superintendent Kirsten Vital wrote in her June superintendent’s message. (The Chronicle reported Saturday that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is backing off of a proposal to suspend a voter-approved constitutional funding guarantee for schools.)

District officials have raised the possibility of placing a permanent parcel tax on the ballot in 2012, the year both of its temporary taxes expire. Businesses sued the district last summer over the more recent Measure H tax because they think it’s unfair that many of them are charged more than homeowners.

McMahon is actively soliciting feedback from all interested parties on the district’s master plan process (and he lays out ways you can participate on his site; scroll down to the June 26 post). The district will also host the third of three public forums on its plan process on August 18 (and you can get the update on what’s happened so far right here).

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