Under-enrolled Sacramento district may close multiple city schools

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2013 - 4:11 pm

Trustees in the Sacramento City Unified School District will begin discussions this week on closing what one official said is a "significant" number of under-enrolled schools, nearly a year after the school board wrangled over closing three elementary campuses and ultimately voted to close just one.

Sacramento City Unified spokesman Gabe Ross said the number of schools being considered for closure and their names won't be released until today to allow notification of the campuses first, but he said the number is "significant."

Trustees are scheduled to vote Feb. 21 on Superintendent Jonathan Raymond's recommendations – to be discussed at a board meeting Thursday – to "right-size" the district by closing under-enrolled elementary schools.

Board member Patrick Kennedy said the district simply has too many schools for its enrollment and the closure proposal is an attempt to address those structural problems for years to come.

"One or two schools are probably not enough," Kennedy said. "We would have to revisit this again. We need real change, and I think that is what will be proposed."

The district's elementary enrollment is at 56 percent of capacity.

Enrollment for this school year is down 641 students compared to last year and preliminary projections for next year anticipate a similar trend, the district said. The district currently has about 47,000 students at 80 campuses. By comparison, Elk Grove Unified has 62,000 students at 62 campuses.

The declining enrollment, along with rising costs, has Sacramento City Unified anticipating a budget deficit next school year. In recent years, the district has laid off teachers, custodians, administrators and other staff in addition to cutting busing and adult education to balance its budget.

"There is nowhere else to cut," Ross said. "That is an important reason we are considering closures. And, it's a way to look at our structural deficit. We simply have more schools than we have the resources to support. By considering closures, we will have more resources and supports for students in our district."

Sacramento City Unified has closed 11 schools since 2000, including Freeport Elementary in Meadowview last year. In the four-county region, districts have closed 113 schools, excluding charter schools, since 2000. San Juan Unified closed the most schools over that period – 18 schools. The Sacramento Office of Education closed 10; Twin Rivers, 6; Washington Unified, 6; and Elk Grove, 5.

During last year's vote to shutter Freeport Elementary, many teachers and parents criticized the board for what they felt was a convoluted process for determining which schools were put forward for closure. The school board considered the closures in December 2011, then abruptly stopped the conversations amid community resistance.

In February 2012, with less than a week's notice, trustees brought back three schools to be considered for closure – Freeport, A.M. Winn and C.P. Huntington.

During that meeting, Raymond angered some trustees when he appeared to reverse his opinion to close A.M. Winn as the board was poised to vote on closing the Rancho Cordova campus.

The board voted 6-1 to close Freeport for a savings of $422,000, with trustee Diana Rodriguez voting in opposition. Since the 2012 closure, the board has two new trustees – Christina Pritchett, who was elected to fill Donald Terry's seat, and Jay Hansen, who was appointed to fill Ellyn Bell's vacated seat.

Trustee Kennedy said he feels the board has learned from last year's closure fiasco.

"The criteria are simplified this year," Kennedy said. "The leading criteria are what schools are under-enrolled. Last year, we took a lot of things into account, such as where they are located and programs on the campuses. Frankly, programs can be moved from one facility to another."

BOARD MEETING

The public portion of Thursday's school board meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. at the Serna Center, 5735 47th Ave., Sacramento.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Melody Gutierrez



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