Committee urges Sacramento city schools not to sell closed campus sites without further review

A committee for the Sacramento City Unified School District has finalized recommendations for the future use of seven elementary campuses closed last year due to falling enrollment – urging that none be sold without further evaluation.

The nine members of the 7/11 Committee, a combination of educators, parents and community group members, said at their final meeting on Tuesday night that they will recommend to the district trustees at their March 6 meeting that all the campuses be used for district programs and by community groups, with priority given to ideas and requests from neighborhood residents.

The district last year closed the seven schools due to falling enrollment. Most are in low-income and predominantly minority neighborhoods: Clayton B. Wire and Maple, Washington, Collis P. Huntington, Fruit Ridge, Joseph Bonnheim and Mark Hopkins. About 2,300 students were relocated.

Committee members made their recommendations following 15 public meetings held since September. Members said they were reluctant to find any school sites “surplus” to the district.

“None of us feel comfortable with getting rid of properties that could have a use in the future,” Michael Minnick, committee vice chairman, said before the meeting started.

“At no point during this process has there been a lot of energy around the idea of selling,” he said. “That’s a very permanent solution to what may be a very temporary problem of under-enrollment.”

When asked the district’s perspective on sale of the campuses, district spokesman Gabe Ross said any answer would be premature.

“That is the purpose of the 7/11 committee,” Ross said. “The district will have that discussion when the committee presents its recommendations in March.”

Committee members also said they they chose not to prioritize re-use ideas because they could not vet specific proposals or properly investigate whether the agencies were prepared to implement their plans.

Among the larger proposals: a community or a parent resource center, sites for groups such as Legal Services of Northern California, a satellite office for a Sacramento County Office of Education Community School and La Familia Counseling Center.

Rachel Rios, executive director for La Familia, with offices less than a mile from Maple Elementary, said on Wednesday that after the school closed, her group sought to do “whatever it could to help meet the neighborhood’s needs.”

La Familia, she said, proposes to expand its existing operation to help residents navigate the health care system. The group plans to partner with a health care clinic that would provide health care services on site. La Familia would provide mental health care services along with education and employment services, youth programs and family support services, she said.

Another partner would provide free or low-cost legal services.

“We’ve been working in this community for many years, and we’re a strong presence here,” Rios said. “So it makes sense” for La Familia to be at Maple.

The Boy Scouts of Northern California also sought to establish a center at one of the schools, although their information was limited.

James Martin, scout executive for the Golden Empire Council, said in an email that the council had discussed the closed school sites as an alternative to their current office space. He also characterized the council’s interest in using one of the sites “as one of many options under consideration.”

Separate proposals came from St. John’s Shelter for Women and Children and another group, Opportunity and Services for Life, that proposes to open a homeless shelter where people could stay for 30 to 60 days. Requests also came on behalf of the Sacramento Performing Arts Conservatory and the California Conservation Corps.

Several charter schools were listed as possibilities for closed sites. But all would require separate district approval to open.

Despite the end to enrollment last summer, several of the closed campuses already are hosting school district programs.

At Wire Elementary, for example, a satellite kitchen is in temporary use until a central kitchen can be built. The school district operates child care centers at the Huntington and Washington campuses. And Bonnheim has two independent-study classrooms run by the district.