Twin Rivers Unified looks at closing schools as enrollment drops, superintendent says

Twin Rivers Unified School District has begun discussing the closure of several schools due to declining enrollment, a lingering $3.8 million budget deficit and an inefficient structure that has resulted in too many campuses for the number of students served, according to officials.

Superintendent Steve Martinez said in a letter to parents Oct. 3 that the northern Sacramento-area district has made $16.9 million in budget cuts over the past two years, “but that’s not enough.”

According to Martinez, Twin Rivers’ 46 K-12 schools have 15 different grade configurations. “This is not an ideal standard,” he said, resulting in underenrolled schools and staffing inefficiencies.

Twin Rivers Unified has a population of about 25,000 students with an average of 543 students per school, compared to Sacramento City Unified at 620 per school and Elk Grove Unified at 959 students per school, Martinez said.

Based on recommendations from the Student Housing Committee, formed in March to review district policies, Martinez said, the district will move to a structure with four grade configurations:

  • Grades K-6 (700 students) and K-8 (900 students) for elementary.
  • Grades 7-8 (1,000 students) for intermediate.
  • Grades 9-12 (2,000 students) for secondary.

While Martinez said the Student Housing Committee has not yet made any recommendations for specific school closures, it has considered five scenarios that involve closing schools.

Some of the recommendations include closing Allison and Hillsdale elementary schools, both K-6, and closing Highlands High School and moving all students to Foothill High School. Other schools that remain open would expand their grade levels to accommodate more students.

In July, the Board of Trustees approved a new policy that would allow the district to make changes to school sites based on enrollment. In the 2017-18 school year, the district lost 465 students, and is projected to lose another 285 students, according to officials.

By consolidating schools, or even closing some, the district can reduce its structural deficit for the 2020-21 school year, the district said – potentially saving $500,000 per school.

Twin Rivers United Educators President Rebecca LeDoux said that a $3.8 million deficit is just 1 percent of the district’s budget.

“It seems like a very extreme response to a one percent shortfall,” she said. “My concern is that closures will lead to further declining enrollment. You close schools, and more people leave the district. Closing schools will be devastating to our community and our students, and the trauma that can result from that, Schools are the heart of the community.”

Martinez said in his letter that officials would hold a series of community meetings in November and December to tell parents about next steps and how they would affect the district and its students.

He said school closures would have no effect on programs or on class sizes, which are determined by state laws and agreements with the district’s labor unions.

“I want to acknowledge that any discussion around school consolidation/closures can be intense, painful and highly emotional,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, that’s the collective reality for our Twin Rivers school community.”

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.