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  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Damian Arriaga, 7, right, gets a boost from mom Jessica Arriaga at Thursday's rally outside the federal courthouse where parents and students challenged the Sacramento City Unified School District's closure of seven elementary schools.

  • RANDY PENCH / rpench@sacbee.com

    Jonathan Tran, a rally organizer, speaks outside the federal courthouse. Inside, U.S. District Court Judge Kimberly J. Mueller restricted the testimony of a sociologist called by closure foes.

Sac City argues in court against overturning school closures

Published: Friday, Jul. 12, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 12, 2013 - 7:21 am

Attorneys for Sacramento city schools told a federal judge Thursday that blocking seven elementary campuses from closing would be costly for the district.

Such a move, only weeks before the Sept. 3 start of the school year, "would immediately put the district into a negative budget situation," said Sloan R. Simmons, co-counsel representing the Sacramento City Unified School District.

Further, he said, hundreds of students have already enrolled in their alternate schools of choice.

A dozen students and their parents filed suit last month in federal court, complaining that the district chose to close campuses in low-income and predominately minority neighborhoods that are "without political influence or organization" and, instead, kept other schools open in predominately white neighborhoods.

School officials have said the closures are necessary to help balance the budget and estimated the district can save millions of dollars over several years by eliminating campuses that are underutilized.

But the plaintiffs' attorney, Mark Merin, countered that the financial effect on the school district did not balance the human effect on students who would be displaced and become "interlopers" at their replacement campuses.

The amended complaint filed by Merin names district Superintendent Jonathan Raymond and others. It complains, among other issues, that the district's decision violates the plaintiffs' right to equal protection under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Merin asked for a preliminary injunction. He wanted Jesus Hernandez, who has a doctorate in sociology from the University of California, Davis, to testify on topics ranging from school financing to policy.

But U.S. District Judge Kimberly J. Mueller restricted Hernandez largely to answering questions about the racial makeup of affected schools and neighborhoods and student capacity at two of the closing campuses he toured – Clayton B. Wire and Maple elementary schools.

Mueller said she would issue her decision no earlier than next week.

At Maple, Hernandez said he reviewed the space on campus and found the capacity to be 401 students, down from the 528 that district officials had calculated.

That's important because the district, in deciding which schools to close, emphasized how well campuses were utilized.

The district's lead counsel, Gregory A. Wedner, challenged Hernandez's research and the contention that his results would alter the rankings for closures.

"There was no manipulation of figures" by the district, Wedner told the judge. "Every single school was treated the same."

In addition to Clayton B. Wire and Maple elementaries, school campuses headed for closure are Washington, Collis P. Huntington, Fruit Ridge, Joseph Bonnheim and Mark Hopkins. Some 2,300 students would be relocated.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Loretta Kalb



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