Three Sacramento elementary schools may close

02/16/2012 12:00 AM

03/09/2012 10:48 AM

With less than a week's notice, the Sacramento City Unified school board has placed three elementary schools previously considered for closure back on the chopping block.

Trustees halted school closures in December amid community pushback, with several board members saying the district did not do a good enough job of working with the families and staff at some of the schools considered for closure or consolidation.

Tonight, at the district's school board meeting, trustees will vote on whether to close A.M. Winn, Freeport and C.P. Huntington elementary schools. By closing all three, the district would save $832,000, with Freeport accounting for the biggest savings of $442,000.

"The board should have acted in December, but the board didn't," said district Superintendent Jonathan Raymond. "Now is the time for action for these communities. I don't know what could possibly change by doing (school closures) over the course of two board meetings."

Earlier this month, Sacramento City Unified trustees approved $28 million in budget cuts that eliminate 250 full-time equivalent teachers, custodians, plant managers, counselors, maintenance workers, assistant principals, bus drivers and librarians.

The district also has approved eliminating sports and extracurricular activities.

School board member Patrick Kennedy said school closures have to be reconsidered in order to bring back some of the things that were cut.

"(School closures) were tabled, but not off the table," Patrick said. "I intended to revisit the issue."

The Sacramento City Teachers Association is pressuring the district to close schools, citing declining enrollment. The union will stage a protest outside of tonight's school board meeting to call attention to what SCTA leaders say is financial mismanagement. The union is especially critical of the district's use of outside consultants.

"We need to cut schools," said Erik Knudson, SCTA second vice president. "No teachers like to say that. It impacts families and jobs. But, we aren't the size district we used to be."

Knudson said the board's decision to delay school closures may be political, as four board members face re-election in November.

The district last closed schools in 2009, three months before Raymond took the helm. Raymond delayed conversations about additional closures in 2010, instead saying the district needed clear criteria and data to determine which schools would be closed or consolidated in the future.

After establishing criteria, each school board member appointed a person to a facilities review committee that submitted a report with its suggestions for closures and consolidations.

Among the suggestions from the committee was the controversial plan to co-locate or swap the campuses of West Campus and Sacramento Charter High. That plan is not among the current recommendations being considered.

Raymond said he recommends closing Freeport.

"It's now our lowest performing elementary school in the district," Raymond said. "From a transportation and safety standpoint, it makes the most sense for those students in that community. The other ones present challenges with home-to-school transportation."

Huntington and Freeport are in board President Diana Rodriguez's trustee area. Rodriguez said affected communities have been engaged in the process, but that there is always something that could have been done better.

"It gives me discomfort that we are looking at school closures this week," Rodriguez said. "When we closed schools in 2009, the board felt uncomfortable and said they would do something different."

"We embarked on a process that said we would let communities know in advance of their schools closing," she said. "We want to let schools know far in advance. Now, here we are two months later and we are talking about it again."

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