JOSÉ LUIS VILLEGAS / jvillegas@sacbee.com

Superintendent Jonathan Raymond says the same standard was applied to all schools.

Sacramento schools will hold meetings on closures

Published: Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2013 - 4:11 pm

From the moment the Sacramento City Unified School District named the 11 schools proposed for closure, parents with children at the affected campuses began questioning how their neighborhood schools ended up on the list.

Beginning this week, community meetings will be held at each of the 11 campuses. Trustees are scheduled to vote on the closures Feb. 21.

The schools considered for closure are Washington Elementary, Maple Elementary, Collis P. Huntington Elementary, Susan B. Anthony Elementary, Tahoe Elementary, Fruit Ridge Elementary, James Marshall Elementary, Joseph Bonnheim Elementary, Mark Hopkins Elementary, Bret Harte Elementary, and Clayton B. Wire Elementary.

Some frequently asked questions:

How did the school district come up with the capacity numbers used in selecting the 11 schools proposed for closure?

That was a recurring question that created skepticism after three elementary schools were listed as each having capacity for more than 1,000 students.

School capacity, it turns out, is not cut and dried because campuses use space differently.

Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said he attempted to be objective in what was determined as usable space.

"We looked at what our teachable space is at our school sites," Raymond said. "That looks at our classroom spaces, spaces used for child development. It could look at a parent resource room, a teacher lounge, whatever is potential classroom space. We validated … with principals. We then put in our calculations for class size configurations … All that went into our final numbers."

"We are in the process of working with our school sites to be fully transparent so they know how these calculations are done," Raymond said. "The standard was applied to all schools the same way."

Should the district have considered other factors besides capacity, such as school performance and nearby options?

Parent Matt Muller said he's struggling with the narrowness of the district's closure criteria.

"There are poor performing schools and they keep those?" asked Muller, whose twin sons attend James Marshall in Rosemont.

Last year, Sacramento City Unified used a robust metric for selecting schools for closure, which included school performance, facility conditions and specialty programs. School board President Jeff Cuneo said this year's process needed to be simplified.

"I went into last year's process thinking there should be a number of factors looked at," Cuneo said. "What happened was in the process, it was hard for people to understand when you are considering so many things. I've come to the opinion this year that because it's a fiscal issue and not a value judgment on a community, we should take a transparent approach that the public can understand and then engage in the conversation about the approach."

"School performance can be measured in a lot of different ways," Cuneo said. "You can look at CST scores by grade, API scores and academics in so many ways. It would have been difficult to understand school closures through that lens … When you start bringing in test scores, you bring in issues of socioeconomic status that don't fit with the end result you are trying to achieve. We have a fiscal deficit and a structural imbalance. That's how we need to look at it."

Weren't tax increases raised by Proposition 30 supposed to help school districts and prevent school closures?

That was the question Arthur Aleman, 60, had for school district officials after hearing his granddaughter's school – Joseph Bonnheim Elementary in Colonial Heights – was on the closure list.

"After going to the polls, this feels like a slap in the face," Aleman said.

Superintendent Raymond said Prop. 30 prevented $15 million in midyear cuts that would have meant cutting the school year by two weeks.

"That was very important," Raymond said. "It's also important to remember that one measure doesn't restore the millions and millions (in cuts) we've endured over the past decade. It's been $150 million over five years. Prop. 30 stopped the bleeding, but we still are looking at a deficit for next year. It's starting to kick in, which means we have less to cut, but we still have cuts. Our costs exceed our revenue. That's due to declining enrollment and increased costs."

When the vote is made Feb. 21, will all 11 be voted on at once, or one by one?

This decision will be made by the trustees in open session during a school board meeting. Cuneo is advocating for the 11 schools to be voted on as a package, but that does not mean other board members won't ask that each school or a group of schools be reviewed and voted on separately.

Why are school closures so emotional for parents and students?

Child psychiatrist Joseph Sison said parents and students develop emotional attachments to their schools, which makes changes difficult.

"The idea of going to a different school creates the question of what will happen next," Sison said. "That can create some instability. That's why it's important for changes to be gradual and slow."

"It's like with any one of us, when we change jobs, there is a lot of anxiety. But for us, we know it's happening and acclimate. Sudden closures are very difficult for kids … Parents need to talk to their kids. Communications at this time is key."

Raymond said the district will make transitions as smooth as possible. After the Feb. 21 vote, students at schools to be closed would finish the school year at their current site before moving to their new campus in the fall.

"Many of the children's current teachers will have an opportunity to move to the new schools with them," Raymond said. "Many of their current classmates will join them at their new schools. It's important to look at the programmatic advantages to moving schools. Some of these schools have unique academic programs."

CITY SCHOOLS TO DISCUSS CLOSINGS

The Sacramento City Unified School District has set a series of 11 community meetings at each of the school sites that may close next school year. District officials and board members will visit each of the schools and talk to parents about the closure proposal.

Trustees are scheduled to vote on the closures Feb. 21. Schools that receive a majority vote from the seven-member board will be closed after the school year ends.

Meetings will be held at 6 p.m. on the following days:

Wednesday: Tahoe Elementary School, 3110 60th St.

Monday, Feb. 4: Bret Harte Elementary School, 2751 Ninth Ave.

Monday, Feb. 4: C.B. Wire Elementary School, 5100 El Paraiso Ave.

Tuesday, Feb. 5: James Marshall Elementary School, 9525 Goethe Road

Tuesday, Feb. 5: Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, 7864 Detroit Blvd.

Wednesday, Feb. 6: Mark Hopkins Elementary School, 2221 Matson Drive

Wednesday, Feb. 6: Fruit Ridge Elementary School, 4625 44th St.

Wednesday, Feb. 13: Washington Elementary School, 520 18th St.

Wednesday, Feb. 13: Maple Elementary School, 3301 37th Ave.

Tuesday, Feb. 19: C.P. Huntington Elementary School, 5921 26th St.

Tuesday, Feb. 19: Joseph Bonnheim Elementary School, 7300 Marin Ave.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Melody Gutierrez



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