January 16, 2013

11 elementary schools could be shuttered in Sacramento City Unified district

Faced with declining enrollment, Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond will propose at Thursday's board meeting that the district close 11 elementary schools at the end of the school year.

Faced with declining enrollment, Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond will propose at Thursday's board meeting that the district close 11 elementary schools at the end of the school year.

The names of the schools targeted for closing are expected to be made public today. The district began notifying principals of the affected schools Tuesday so they could contact their school communities.

Being considered for closure are underenrolled elementary schools throughout the district, said school board President Jeff Cuneo.

"We have a capacity issue in our school district," Cuneo said. "We have too many schools that are filled by too few kids. It's a drag on the fiscal health of the entire district."

In previous years, discussions of school closures prompted large community turnout and emotional pleas from parents and students invested in their neighborhood campuses. The district's current proposal would close as many schools as it has shuttered in the last 13 years.

Although the closures will be discussed at Thursday's school board meeting, trustees aren't scheduled to vote on the issue until Feb. 21.

While Raymond wasn't available to discuss the plan Tuesday, Cuneo said he hopes the board can come to a decision on the closures without pulling schools out individually for consideration.

"I hope we look at it as a comprehensive plan to move the district forward," he said. "We need to look at it holistically as a structural issue."

Cuneo said the district, which largely doesn't bus its students because of budget cuts, will address transportation issues created by the school closures. He said closing schools will allow the district to better serve students in many ways.

"We've cut counselors, nurses and custodian staff," he said. "They are spread thin across schools. Our kids are hurt by that."

The district said its elementary enrollment is at 56 percent of capacity and projections for future enrollment show continued declines.

The district, which currently has about 47,000 students at 80 campuses, anticipates finishing the school year with 800 fewer students than last year.

Sacramento City Teachers Association President Scott Smith said the union has supported school closures in the past but is waiting to hear more details before endorsing this effort.

"It's nice they are finally getting serious about the structural deficit," he said. "When schools are too small it takes away resources from other schools."

Smith said schools need a certain threshold of students, and the daily attendance dollars that come with them, for a site to be financially feasible. Otherwise, underenrolled schools take money away from other schools to stay afloat, he said.

"That's one of the reasons we have advocated for putting the district, as they call it, 'in the right size,' " Smith said. "They could have been spending that additional money on counselors, custodians and things like that instead of drawing it from other schools."

Smith said school closures generally do not create teacher layoffs because more classrooms are opened at schools taking in students.

"This benefits the district as a whole," he said. "And, it means fewer split classes, which no one likes."

In split classes, students from different grades are combined.

Sacramento City Unified has closed 11 schools since 2000, when enrollment was at 53,000.

In 2009, the city district closed four sites – Thomas Jefferson, Alice Birney and Lisbon elementary schools and Genesis High School. Last year, trustees voted to close one of three elementary schools considered for closure – Freeport Elementary in Meadowview.

In the four-county region, districts have closed 113 schools, excluding charter schools, since 2000. San Juan Unified closed 18 schools – the most in the region – including 10 schools between 2003 and 2007.

Cuneo said it's time for the City Unified board to cast the tough votes to address a thorny issue.

"At the end of the day, it's not about individual schools or communities, it's taking a balanced reasonable approach with an issue that will persist if we don't address it," Cuneo said. "It really hurts how we serve kids throughout the district. We need to do something about that."

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