Sacramento City board appears split over tonight's vote on closing 10 schools

Published: Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1A
Last Modified: Wednesday, Jun. 5, 2013 - 4:11 pm

The proposal to shutter 10 elementary schools in Sacramento City Unified School District tonight appears headed for a split vote after numerous critics questioned the method used to decide which schools should close.

Several sources said newly appointed board member Jay Hansen could be the deciding vote on closures.

"I haven't made up my mind on each of the 11 schools," Hansen said Wednesday night. "We do have to make decisions. We can't kick the can down the road. I've talked to past board members who have said we should have done this a long time ago."

Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond is recommending 11 underenrolled elementary schools be closed to address declining enrollment that he said has left the district with too many facilities for its 47,000 students. Ten of the 11 schools slated for closure will be discussed at tonight's school board meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Serna Center, 5735 47th Ave.

Those elementary schools include: Washington, Maple, Collis P. Huntington, Susan B. Anthony, Fruit Ridge, James Marshall, Joseph Bonnheim, Mark Hopkins, Bret Harte and Clayton B. Wire.

A discussion over whether to close Tahoe Elementary or Mark Twain Elementary is scheduled for March 7.

The district anticipates a savings of $2.5 million annually by closing the schools and moving their 3,650 students to nearby campuses.

How the closure vote will play out at tonight's board meeting is unclear. Trustees will have to decide whether to vote on the schools individually or to package the proposal altogether.

Hansen said he supports voting on each school individually. Board President Jeff Cuneo said he favors an approach that doesn't single out communities and instead looks at the district as a whole.

Trustee Christina Pritchett said she'd like to see the entire package overturned.

"I think the process is flawed," Pritchett said. "We need to ditch the plan and start over. … I'm not opposed to closing schools, but I want to make sure we are closing the right schools."

Trustees Diana Rodriguez and Gustavo Arroyo expressed concerns about the closure proposal at a board meeting earlier this month. Trustee Patrick Kennedy said he has not made up his mind, but he sees closures as an opportunity to deliver better educational services to all students.

Trustee Darrel Woo could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Cuneo said the closures are "difficult, but good overall" for the Sacramento City Unified district.

The district's teachers union, which for years has pushed for closures, withheld support for the current plan, saying it lacked stakeholder input and a transparent process. Other interest groups also weighed in with concerns, including the Democratic Party of Sacramento County and Hmong Innovating Politics, which held a rally Wednesday to oppose the closures.

Hundreds of parents, students and staff attended two school board meetings in the past six weeks since the closure proposal was announced. Community meetings held at each of the schools were packed.

Some questioned the hurried pace of the closures and why trustees did not follow the lengthy criteria in the state Department of Education's "Best Practices" guide.

Trustee Kennedy said he's not sure that would have helped.

"I've seen it done three different ways and each time the criteria is criticized by people who don't want their school to close," Kennedy said. "There is no one who wants their school to close. It causes pain in the community, but we've tried to make it as objective as possible."

To determine which schools should be closed, district officials ranked underutilized schools by dividing the current enrollment by the site capacity. The capacity figures themselves became the subject of much criticism.

Despite the pushback, one high profile leader offered his support. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, issued a statement Wednesday urging board members to support Superintendent Raymond's plan.

"I support him in making this tough recommendation today for the sake of strengthening the district tomorrow, and most of all to ensure quality education for all of our students," Steinberg said in the statement.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Melody Gutierrez

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