District leaders begin talking school closure plans
Alameda Unified Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge delivered news that no parent wants to hear on Tuesday night: That the district is considering closing nearly half of its existing schools over the next two years and raising K-3 class sizes to 32 students per teacher.
Wood and Lincoln middle schools and Washington and Paden elementary schools are all being considered for closure next year or in 2012, and five more elementary schools – Edison, Otis, Lum, Franklin and Bay Farm – could also be closed in 2012. The district would then look at reconfiguring grade levels that could include creating larger K-6 elementary schools and two high schools that could serve grades 7-12 or split as a middle school and high school.
Even with the closures and consolidations, the district would face additional cuts of between $4 million and $5 million in 2011 and $7 million and $8 million in 2012, McPhetridge said.
“We are maximizing cost savings, folks. That is the charge of the board,” he said as some parents and union leaders questioned and event heckled him from a packed council chamber. “None of these options are crowd pleasers.”
But school board members and union leaders who spoke at Tuesday’s meeting asked for more detail on how the district came up with its closure and consolidation proposals. They wanted to know whether the district’s existing school sites could handle as many students as the district is considering putting on them – and if the closure and consolidation proposals would save the $3.6 million to $4.2 million district officials estimate.
“My concern is, how do you service mega-elementary schools, given the limited sites we have this Island. This fundamentally doesn’t work,” board vice president Mike McMahon said. “How you serve 1,000 kids on a 2.4 acre site is beyond my comprehension.”
McMahon was responding to Trustee Trish Hererra Spencer’s questions about why district officials are seeking to close Washington next year instead of Franklin, which is half Washington’s size. McPhetridge said they are looking at Washington first because it has the lowest enrollment of any elementary school in the district. But Spencer criticized district officials’ decision last year to put a kindergarten class at Franklin instead of Washington even though the latter school had more space, she said.
“I believe the word that’s missing here is political. Politics,” Hererra Spencer said, to the assent of some members of the audience. “It’s part of our conversation no one wants to talk about. And I think it needs to be discussed.”
She also made a pitch for Encinal High School, which she said is “not favored by our community.” As of the fifth day of this school year Encinal had 983 students, and Alameda High School had 1,787.
Sarah Olaes, acting chair for the committee that ran the Measure E campaign, had urged people in the community to unite around the tough conversations about closures and consolidations ahead.
The school board has scheduled public hearings on its closure and consolidation proposals on September 30 at Lincoln Middle School and October 21 at Ruby Bridges Elementary. The board will get final closure recommendations on November 23 and is slated to make decisions on December 14.
The discussion came on the heels of news that the district increased its Academic Performance Index score from 822 to 833 and that several schools saw their scores increase last year. Still, three of the district’s elementary schools missed performance targets and three saw scores decline, and Wood Middle School, while seeing an overall gain, fell into program improvement after not meeting performance targets for all its racial, ethnic and economic subgroups.
The board also discussed diversions of students and an increase in the number of split grade level classes in the wake of the district’s decision to increase class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 25 students from 20. The district’s student services coordinator, Kirsten Zazo, said 63 students have been bumped to other elementary schools so far this year.
The district’s policy is to ask for volunteers to move to a different school and, failing that, to move students based on a list of criteria.