Modesto City Schools officials plan to open brand- spanking-new Gregori High next summer, even as they must lop at least $25 million from their budget.
Gregori will open with freshmen and sophomores, expanding to juniors in 2011-12 and seniors in 2012-13. They opened Enochs High that way in 2006, and Johansen similarly in 1992.
But in such dire financial times, the old way might not be the most cost-effective way.
Critics wonder why the trustees insist upon opening and staffing a new school at a time when they'll be cutting so deeply throughout the district.
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Here's why Gregori needs to open:
District officials cite still- crowded campuses even though the area is experiencing declining enrollment. None of the seven comprehensive campuses, Gregori included, originally was designed for more than 1,800 students. Yet 92-year-old Modesto High has 2,500 students, and Enochs is projected to have 2,300 when the 2010-11 school year begins in August.
But wait, there's more. If the district opted to mothball Gregori until the economy improved, a charter school could conceivably petition to lease it. Hence, the taxpayers would be on the hook for a $140 million campus, rented out to a charter school that would have better and more modern facilities than any other campus aside from Enochs.
Some critics also wonder why the district built Gregori at all, since construction began as the economy started its freefall in 2007.
The short answer: Funding came from bond measures passed in 2001 -- when the valley was in a growth spurt -- and included matching funds from the state. The money couldn't be used for anything other than for building Enochs, which opened four years ago, and for building Gregori. That's what the voters bought when they approved the bond.
Gregori, an Enochs campus clone, could reach its designed capacity a year after it opens, when it expands to include a junior class. It almost certainly will exceed capacity with its first senior class in 2012-13.
Its student population will come from Salida and northwest Modesto, the source of many Davis High students now.
Here's a different thought: Start Gregori as a four-year school, basically switching enrollments with Davis High. Make Davis the two-year campus, working its way back to a four-year school over time.
Why? While the Davis campus is 50 years old and "next on the list" for modernization, according to Modesto City Schools Superintendent Arturo Flores, neither the district nor the state has the $20 million to $35 million to fund the face-lift. So Davis will remain the high school campus most in need of a remodeling until money becomes available.
Some Davis teachers could relocate to Gregori. That could include coaches (assuming the sports programs survive the budget cuts), in essence taking the athletic programs along to newer, better fields, floors and facilities.
The district could appease transferring juniors and seniors who want a Davis High diploma by giving them one, pushing off Gregori's own first graduation until 2013, as now projected.
The same number of freshmen and sophomores who would have started the year at Gregori under the current plan would simply begin high school at Davis instead.
The switch would delay further wear and tear at Davis by virtue of having fewer students for a few years, with hopes that an improved economy eventually allows the remodeling to take place.
And just as the district can't mothball Gregori, nor can it close Davis without possible ramifications, said Julie Chapin, the district's director of business services. At Davis, there would be an additional concern beyond the threat of a charter school moving in.
"Once you close down a facility, you could face new seismic regulations before you reopen it," she said.
Such retrofitting would drive repair costs out of reach, even in a decent economic climate. So Davis, too, needs to be open.
The switch isn't a perfect scenario, but at a time when trainloads of money must be cut from the budget, any idea that saves dollars is worth a look.
And while I'm sure the mere suggestion of a Davis-Gregori swap will upset someone, that's nothing compared to the shock and awe families and teachers are going to feel when they see what $25 million won't buy.
Jeff Jardine's column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays in Local News. He can be reached at 578-2383 or firstname.lastname@example.org.