Fairness in decisions on school closures?

03/06/2013 12:00 AM

03/05/2013 10:07 PM

The Sacramento City Unified superintendent and elected board members delivered on the most thankless and difficult task any school district faces – closing schools in the face of a declining school-age population. And then they backpedaled.

Superintendent Jonathan Raymond pulled three schools from the proposed 10-school closure vote on Feb. 21 – to be placed in a wait-and-see mode for the next couple of years to see if new enrollments materialize from proposed new housing developments.

Like the seven schools slated for closure, Bret Harte in Curtis Park, Susan B. Anthony in Meadowview and James Marshall in Rosemont are under-enrolled and have experienced significant declining enrollment in the last decade; if they don't reverse that situation, the board will have to revisit closure again.

And now Raymond has pulled a fourth school from a proposed closure vote on Thursday – Tahoe Elementary. That school, located less than a mile from Sacramento State University and less than a mile from the UC Davis Medical Center, is seriously under-enrolled. Enrollment at this school has steadily decreased from 476 students in 2000 to 315 today.

In 2011, this K-6 school had a total of 33 second-graders. No grade had more than 50 students.

The justifications for keeping this school open just don't add up.

Under the original plan, families east of Stockton Boulevard would attend Mark Twain Elementary, which also is under-enrolled (393 students in a campus with capacity for 876 students). This school is next to the West Campus, the district's highest achieving high school – which has benefited the elementary students as high school students help with after-school tutoring and serve as academic role models.

The superintendent's report said that concerns had been raised about traffic concerns at Mark Twain Elementary because of future West Campus construction – a key component of Measure Q passed in November. West Campus will be updating the multipurpose stage, music room and library, expanding the auxiliary gym and renovating the locker rooms, adding science labs and career-technical spaces. Would this really negatively impact students shifting from Tahoe Elementary to Mark Twain? Unlikely.

Families west of Stockton Boulevard would attend Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary, which has improved significantly since it has become one of the superintendent's seven "priority schools."

In the end, this seems really about wanting to be done with school closures after the Feb. 21 decision to close seven schools. As Raymond told The Bee's editorial board, closing seven schools is "tremendously unsettling" and he wants the transition at those schools to go well before taking up four more schools. "We have a lot on our plate," he said.

The three schools that already have gotten a reprieve and, potentially, a fourth at Thursday's school board meeting will have to deliver on enrollment, attendance, parent participation and student performance in the next couple of years. If these schools don't perform, the superintendent and board will have to act, lest they be accused of unfairness and geographic inequity in closing the other seven schools.

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