Winn school escapes closure

03/02/2012 12:00 AM

03/04/2012 12:35 PM

Sacramento Unified School District school board members voted to keep A.M. Winn Elementary School open, although many trustees acknowledged school closures need to be considered in the cash-strapped district.

Students, parents and teachers of the Rancho Cordova school celebrated the board's decision, which came two weeks after a vote on closing Winn was delayed following a chaotic and tense meeting.

"I think there is a huge difference between what we saw here tonight and at the last meeting," said Rancho Cordova Mayor David Sander. "It seemed to be a more open and transparent process."

During a Feb. 16 meeting, trustees clashed during discussions on the closure of three elementary schools – Winn, C.P. Huntington and Freeport.

Thursday's meeting was a stark contrast. Early in the meeting, board President Diana Rodriguez pledged that the board would find ways to work better together.

Rodriguez abstained during the 6-0 vote to keep Winn open. She voiced concern about the 350-student school operating in the red each year.

"I support having conversations about right-sizing our district," Rodriguez said. "We need to engage the community upfront. We have learned a valuable lesson."

Two weeks ago, trustees voted 6-1 to close Freeport Elementary at the end of this school year for a savings of $442,000. Rodriguez, whose trustee area includes Freeport, opposed the closure. In a 5-2 vote, board members decided not to close Huntington.

Trustees Ellyne Bell and Jeff Cuneo voted to shutter Huntington, saying at the time that they planned to support all of the closures, which appeared to have the district's support.

Sacramento City Unified made $28 million in budget cuts for the 2012-2013 school year by laying off teachers, counselors, bus drivers and custodians.

When excluding independent charter schools, the district has approximately 44,000 students. That's down from 52,500 students during the 2001-2002 school year. Sacramento City Unified has 82 school sites, compared with Elk Grove Unified, which has 63 schools for 61,500 students.

"We need to look at our schools and we need to figure out where we can close schools in the tight fiscal times we are in," Cuneo said.

At the Feb. 16 meeting, several board members cited concern for students walking to school as the reason for not closing Huntington. At that same meeting, it appeared the board majority supported the closure of Winn. Before the vote, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond interjected, saying he felt the safety issues at Huntington were also present at Winn.

Raymond's comments threw the board meeting into turmoil as several trustees criticized the superintendent for submitting a recommendation that said the district supported Winn's closure.

Raymond said that recommendation was made in December – before the board voted to eliminate bus transportation for the next school year. The board voted to delay a decision on Winn until Thursday's meeting.

During the two weeks since the Feb. 16 meeting, Raymond amended the recommendation to say the district did not support closing Winn.

Accompanying the new recommendation on Thursday's agenda was an out-of-cycle performance evaluation of Raymond during closed session. The board did not have any action to report from the session.

"This board does support our superintendent and will continue to support our superintendent," Rodriguez said during her president's report at the start of the meeting. "Let's take that off the table right now."



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