For too long, the Sacramento City Unified school board has put off decisions to confront declining enrollment matching the number of facilities with the number of students. Key votes tonight will have to come from the newest members of the board, Jay Hansen and Christina Pritchett.
We have known for a long time that many of Sac City's elementary schools are way underenrolled for their capacity. For example, Maple Elementary has capacity for 528 students, but has 232.
Superintendent Jonathan Raymond has recommended that the board close 10 campuses that are using less than half of their capacity due to declining enrollment and are located near other schools that have available capacity. This is not a rushed decision, but a decision delayed for a decade.
The district has committed to provide transportation to transferring students who would have to cross busy streets or railroad tracks and walking attendants in other areas.
Fruit Ridge Elementary has a quarter-acre garden and a Garden and Living Laboratory program with staff trained at the Edible Schoolyard Institute. Washington Elementary has an arts partnership. Susan B. Anthony Elementary has a Hmong immersion program. These programs will follow the kids to their new schools.
For special education students, every elementary school has speech and language services, as well as resource specialists. Special day class programs will be moved with the kids.
The board will have to address the 11th-hour reversal by the teachers union. For years the union has been pressing the board to close schools as "a sound financial decision." But, now it has balked, voting "not to endorse" the closure plan purportedly because the plan doesn't include priority schools, middle schools or high schools.
The fact is two priority schools Oak Ridge and Father Keith B. Kenny were taken off the list because students from closing schools would increase their enrollment. Leataata Floyd Elementary was spared because it has received significant turnaround resources in an impoverished neighborhood.
Middle schools and high schools tend to be far apart and the district doesn't provide transportation, which could cause problems. These schools certainly are not off the table for the future decisions.
There is no perfect process for closing schools. A focus on elementary schools is the right one. It is where the big declines have been 4,000 K-6 students in the last decade.
If the board makes the right decision to close schools, residents, community leaders, the superintendent and board should put as much passion into putting the buildings to new use as they have to supporting or opposing a decision to close underenrolled schools.
The search has to start now before schools close for the summer. Residents and civic groups should see these buildings as community assets and work aggressively to get them occupied whether as community centers, day care facilities, medical offices, a small business incubator, housing, art studios, police stations or green space.
The district should immediately appoint a new broad-based 7/11 Committee to make recommendations and draw on neighborhood-based city planning and economic development staff as well as other expertise throughout the city.
And the district should move immediately to create a section on its website for information about the buildings, site tours, public meetings, links to proposals and updates.
Tonight's vote is just the first step in right-sizing Sacramento City Unified's campuses.