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School closure planning process continues

Submitted by on 1, November 15, 2010 – 12:04 amNo Comment

Alameda Unified School District officials offered a fresh take on their school closure and consolidation plans during a four-hour Board of Education meeting Saturday.

The latest proposal entails shutting Wood Middle School and putting West End students in grades 7-12 at Encinal High School in 2011. All of the district’s elementary school would serve students in kindergarten through sixth grade and Lincoln Middle School would handle seventh and eighth graders. Elementary school class sizes would rise to 32 students per teacher, and middle schools’ seventh period would be eliminated. And attendance zone boundaries for Encinal and Alameda high schools and Ruby Bridges and Paden elementary schools would change.

In 2012, the district would close three elementary schools – Franklin, Washington and Otis – and turn Earhart, Bay Farm and Lincoln into K-8 schools. Edison would remain open, serving an estimated 570 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, and that school’s students would go to Lincoln when they reach seventh grade. All of the district’s attendance boundaries would change.

The changes, if made, would save the district $3.37 million a year as of 2012. Superintendent Kirsten Vital stressed that they were offering a worst-case scenario that would be enacted only if a new parcel tax doesn’t pass, while Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge – who presented the plans – said Alameda Unified can no longer afford the status quo.

“I would like to say we can have it all,” said McPhetridge, who pointed out that the district is looking at cuts of up to $20 million – a quarter of its budget – between this year and 2012-2013. “We can’t afford it all. We have to make some change.”

Three board members – Board president Ron Mooney, vice president Mike McMahon and trustee Niel Tam – said they could accept the proposed closures and consolidations as presented, while a fourth – Trish Hererra Spencer – questioned the staff proposal to shutter Otis Elementary, which is larger than nearby Edison and sits next door to a park; and Washington Elementary, which is also larger than at least one of the nearby schools that would remain open.

McPhetridge said staff opted to consider closing Washington because a new state law gives parents whose schools are among the state’s 1,000 lowest-performing – a list the school is on despite attaining an Academic Performance Index score that is barely shy of the state’s goal of 800 – the right to ask that their children be transferred elsewhere. And Student Services coordinator Kirsten Zazo said Otis and Lincoln Middle School, which would become a K-8 school in 2012 under the proposal, were too close together for both to remain open.

Trustee Tracy Jensen, who won’t be on the board when it votes on a closure plan next month, asked whether the district should maintain an adult school if cuts need to be made. And she asked whether Haight Elementary could become a K-8 school.

McPhetridge touted the value of the district’s adult school program, while Vital said that any changes could force district staff to pull their whole plan apart and start from scratch.

Trustees also questioned district staff’s proposal to move the Alameda High and Encinal High boundary from Union Street to Walnut Street, which some parents who attended Saturday’s meeting also questioned. McMahon’s chuckles over the subject prompted an emotional response from McPhetridge.

“It’s no laughing matter for staff when the fiscal (situation) changes your community,” McPhetridge said. “It may feel irrational or funny to some or be of concern to some, but some changes have to be made to be able to fit people in your facilities. It’s going to feel like winners or losers. It’s going to feel absurd to some. It’s going to feel political to some. It’s important for the community to understand – there are going be winners and losers. I’m trying to point out, we’re trying to do the best that we can.”

District officials will offer their final recommendations on closure and consolidation plans at the board’s November 23 meeting. The board is slated to decide whether to put the plans in motion on December 14 – the same night newly elected trustee Margie Sherratt is seated.

The district will continue to solicit feedback on the plans through Monday when they will begin work on their final recommendations. Their online survey is here.

As of Saturday, 450 people had filled out the online survey. Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they’d consider the first phase of closures proposed for 2011. Nearly two-thirds of respondents said maintaining quality instruction is their highest priority throughout this process, while a similar percentage ranked maintaining neighborhood schools as “most important” or “important.”

The school board is set to get a final recommendation on a proposed parcel tax on November 23 and vote on whether to put a fresh tax on the ballot on November 30. District officials haven’t yet made a recommendation on how much the district should ask voters for, though the amounts that have been used as examples throughout the planning process fall far short of what the district would need to close its entire anticipated budget gap.

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