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Trustees may ditch school closure recommendations

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, February 4th, 2011 at 10:19 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

Glenbrook students and parents march to district office to protest school closure recommendation.

Glenbrook students and parents march to district office to protest school closure recommendation.

By Theresa Harrington

Despite what seemed like an exhaustive process to identify schools to close to save $1.5 million a year, Mt. Diablo district trustees may go back to the drawing board.

Here’s the memo Superinintendent Steven Lawrence sent out early this evening outlining the possible change in plans for Tuesday’s meeting:

“Mt. Diablo USD News Update
February 4, 2011

In 1980, the Mt. Diablo Unified School District went through the process of closing seven schools. This was a very difficult process for the community and school district. Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a similar situation today.

Three factors caused the Board to have to make this difficult decision:

First, enrollment has declined by over 2500 students in the past nine years. This means that many of our sites are running below 80% capacity without class size reduction and will run slightly over 80% capacity even when class size reduction is re-instituted;
Second, the enrollment trend data that the School Closure Committee analyzed indicates birth trends in our area will continue to decline for the next several years. Therefore, the District’s enrollment projections continue to decline and we anticipate a loss of 1800 students over the next ten years; and
Third, the State budget crisis requires difficult cuts to educational and co-curricular programs that support academic and social growth. The cuts also require a significant reduction in the number of teachers, support staff, and administrators available to serve our children and families. Small neighborhood schools are valuable, but they are more expensive to operate. Currently, all our elementary schools have a principal, office manager, secretary, and a day custodian regardless of whether they serve 385 students or 850 students. Therefore, the cost of the non-teacher positions at small schools is much higher.

The data provided the School Closure Committee is posted on the district website at http://www.mdusd.org/Community/Pages/scac.aspx . It is a wealth of data and information that the School Closure Committee analyzed prior to developing its recommendations. We are committed to working hard to ensure that we minimize any negative impacts of school closures.

Over the past month, the Board has received and contemplated a considerable amount of information concerning the school closure process. They have also received a great deal of input from parents and community members through public comment and e-mails.

There will be an item on the February 8 Board meeting agenda for the purpose of allowing the Board the opportunity to:

Discuss whether an option should be considered that has not already been discussed. Though the Board wishes to honor the work of the committee, it is the Board’s responsibility to ensure that every option has been analyzed to minimize the impact to our students while achieving the $1.5M in expense reductions. If a viable new option is recommended, the Board will not take a formal vote to enact the new option. Instead, the Board would vote to give staff direction to analyze the new option to ensure that it is implementable and would meet the $1.5M targeted reduction. It would then be brought back to the Board as a future agenda item for the Board to receive information from staff, hear from the public, and potentially vote on;
Determine whether there is any consensus on removing any of the current options or schools under consideration. The current options are:
· Close Wren, Silverwood, and Glenbrook

· Close Holbrook, Silverwood, and Glenbrook

· Close Monte Gardens, Sequoia Elementary, and Sequoia Middle School

· Close either (Holbrook or Wren) and Glenbrook, consolidate two necessary small high schools Crossroads and TLC/Nueva Vista on either the Holbrook or Wren campus, and create a program for students currently in non-public school placements at Glenbrook that would save the district funding.

Determine whether there is consensus to move forward with an existing recommendation.

As a matter of process, the Board may choose to first begin its dialogue prior to public comment so that the public has an opportunity to understand where Board members are in their thought process around school closures. The Board would then hear public comment prior to continuing their dialogue and providing direction to staff.”

Are you surprised?

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55 Responses to “Trustees may ditch school closure recommendations”

  1. Tired of Waiting Says:

    Not surprised at all. They should have used the consultants research data Why use the school closure committee as they spent ALOT of time on meetings and votes. They should’ve just used the data and went from there….Too much time is being wasted and I would NOT be surprised if they don’t come to a decision on Tuesday. It is so unpredictable and misleading at this point because anything can happen.

  2. Doctor J Says:

    By refusing to deal with school consolidation a year ago, they have boxed themselves into a corner, without good alternatives. There is no easy way for them to punch themselves out of this wet paper bag. Its pretty clear that Cheryl Hansen doesn’t like the choices, doesn’t like that Lawrence had no idea on the cost savings. I think Lynne Dennler is coming around on the same issue. I think the Board will punt again on this issue — staff did a horrible job with guiding this committee.
    Doctor J

  3. AnotherMom Says:

    To Tired of Waiting — I think too it would have been ok for the board to use the consultants research data. But I am guessing if they had gone that route, there would have been a lot of criticism that the decision process didn’t have enough community participation. It sort of seems like a “can’t win” either way (damned if they do, damned if the don’t) – especially since school closures are a high emotion issue to begin with.

  4. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I was surprised the committee didn’t give more serious consideration to the recommendation of the Superintendent’s Council. Many committee members were put off by the recommendation because it didn’t come from their process, so they basically refused to evaluate it.
    If the district relocated Glenbrook on the Mt. Diablo High campus, but left the school intact (the same way small necessary high schools operate separately on other campuses), it might be able to keep the $1.7 million in grant money (since its programs would remain in place). The School Improvement Grant money would more than cover the cost of keeping on the administrators — at least for the duration of the grant period. After the grant expires, the district could consolidate Glenbrook with Mt. Diablo High, if it needed to cut costs further.
    Glenbrook parents and students I’ve spoken to said the grant money is keeping their library open full time (the only school in the district where this is the case) and that counselors funded by the grant are helping students deal with many issues, including parents deployed in the military.

  5. Pete Sabine Says:

    The best option to raise $1.5m in lieu of the school closure strategy is to rekindle the movement to put a parcel tax on a special election ballot…ala the failed Measure D. Its simple, effective and other nearby school districts such as Acalanes and San Ramon Valley have been very successful with parcel tax funding.

  6. Robin E Says:

    Just wondering how much money the Board wastes on all the studies they’ve had on how to save money…Perhaps the first thing they should do is do away with themselves and the district office…I’m willing to bet MDUSD would run a lot smoother without all the dead weight.

  7. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, why didn’t the Supt Council propose it at the beginning or at least earlier ? The staff advisor of the committee is on the Supt council which meets weekly. Lawrence had the consultants study before the committee ever got it.

  8. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support, presented the Superintendent’s Council recommendation after the commimttee had come up with its scenarios. She said the council had looked at the scenarios and come up with its own possible scenario to address the issues of a booming student population in Bay Point, declining enrollment at Ygnacio Valley High and the high cost of busing Bay Point students to Mt. Diablo High School.
    It appeared that the Superintendent’s Council waited because it wanted to see if the committee would address those issues.
    Also, CFO Bryan Richards is also on the Superintendent’s Council and served as a staff liaison to the committee. He spoke persuasively about the idea of turning Riverview Middle School into a 6-12 or 7-12 combined Bay Point middle and high School.

  9. The Original mdusd mom Says:

    Thank you Theresa for #4. Once again, Newport-Mesa Unified school district has at least two successfully combined middle-and-high schools, Costa Mesa and Corona del Mar http://web.nmusd.us/cms/page_view?d=x&piid=&vpid=1222629286587 I know a family with children attending a special ed program at one of those schools starting in 7th grade and it’s working for them.

  10. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I grew up in a rural area where an elementary school, middle school and high school were all located on district property and operated separately, but adjacent to one another.
    The schools shared the high school’s gym, cafeteria/multiuse room and music room, along with some sports fields.
    I have also visited several “small high schools” in San Diego that operate separately on shared campuses. This is a model that is working there because it allows consolidation of facilities, while keeping the intimacy of small student populations.

  11. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, Lawrence has been bringing up the consolidation of grade levels ever since he was hired a year ago — there is no legitimate reason he waited to have Locke bring it up after the Committee had done all of its work. If he wanted it considered, it should have been on the original list of considerations presented by the District to the Committee. Someone was sleeping at the wheel again.

  12. Hmmm Says:

    Dr. J – if school closure had been brought up a year earlier, there would likely be the same (if not more) drama around school closures. Some in community would have criticized “why close schools now, the budget situation isn’t that dire.”

  13. The Original mdusd mom Says:

    Once again, clustering schools with libraries, city parks, community swimming pools and other community facilities would be efficient and would save money! MDUSD plans to build new schools at Concord Naval Weapons Station and this should be part of the planning. But MDUSD is too busy with emergencies and never has time for planning.

  14. Doctor J Says:

    Original Mom: They call that management by crisis — its really what happens when you have a Board that is more interested in Micromanagement than Policy making [read that Strategic Plan — still not on the agenda, is it ?]

  15. Linda Says:

    Hmmmm…. What is the date of that strategic planning meeting? Isn’t is supposed to be in February?

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Dr. J, I believe consolidation was something the committee knew they could consider. Some members said they did consider it and decided against it. Others said they didn’t focus on it much.
    Linda, Yes, Board President Gary Eberhart did throw out some February dates and asked the other trustees to check their calendars, but no final date has been publicly announced.

  17. The Original mdusd mom Says:

    Consolidation was covered in the Jan. 19 powerpoint as Scenario #8. The Cons listed include “Not enough information” and Unknowns include “Evidence of success for 6-12 configuration.” As stated above, other districts already have successfully consolidated 7-12, and we have to wonder why MDUSD didn’t know or didn’t give that information to the SCC? We wonder why ASCA or CSBA or CCCOE or CDE can’t disseminate this information to MDUSD to make better decisions? What do they discuss at all their conferences? All we see is MDUSD wasting time trying to reinvent the wheel!

  18. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Rose Lock did tell the committee that there have been successful 6-12 schools and she specifically cited Hercules Middle/High School. She also said that research hasn’t determined one configuration to be more successful than another. The idea of making elementary schools K-6 was also discussed.
    Some moms on the committee said they didn’t think parents would be willing to send their sixth-graders to high school campuses with teens and young adults.
    If Glenbrook parents were given the choice between closing their school or relocating it to Mt. Diablo High, which do you think they would choose?

  19. The Original mdusd mom Says:

    It’s time to look at the big picture. It’s time for MDUSD to try something new. My friend in Newport-Mesa district was extremely concerned sending her special ed children to a 7-12 school but they have been fine, and an advantage is they will have less disruption being at one school site for 6 years.

  20. Nellie Bly Says:

    Was any thought given to K-8 schools? If families in the Glenbrook feeder pattern were given the choice between closing their school or relocating Holbrook students to it as a K-8 campus, which would they choose?

  21. DH Says:

    I went to Pleasant Hill schools (1st through 12th). This district was formed while I was in school. The biggest argument I recall is people protesting that it was going to be too big. I think that has been proven these past few years. Pacifica should never have been closed – Mt. Diablo has been a mess of gangs ever since. I like the superintendant’s plan best (the one they kept secret till after everyone else had spoken). But it needs to be Wren that closes – not Holbrook. Anybody ever think about property values?? Why would anyone think it’s a good idea to close two schools that will impact the same neighborhoods?

  22. LM Says:

    Did anyone check to see if the same population and attendance area is being targeted as was targeted in the 1980’s? I’ll bet you would be surprised to see that the same population is being inconvienanced as last time. The new option still leaves North Concord without neighborhood schools.

  23. Glenbrook Mom Says:

    As a GMS parent I would take a consolidation of any type over closure.

  24. Doctor J Says:

    Cheryl Hansen’s boldness last night is indicative of her vision for education, her support of a strategic plan done right and her long experience and knowledge of MDUSD. People should read what she believes in before they bash her. http://www.cherylhansenmdusd.com/

  25. mdusd mom Says:

    I am not bashing Hansen but what did she bring to the table that night as a solution? Where would she cut $1.5 million right now? I have heard from several parents that witnessed her say how unprofessional she was. How she offered nothing but Grand Standing for applause. What was her solution to not closing schools? We all know a Strategic plan will take time, right now we don;t have the time. Lot of good it will do to have a Strategic plan if the State comes in and takes over because our district did not make the necessary cuts and provide a 3 year projected balanced budget.

    I read Hansen’s blog but am disappointed in her behavior and approach. I am saddened I voted for her right now.

  26. mdusd mom Says:

    But I do agree Doctor J, they need a Strategic Plan and I understand the the BOE will have a retreat to begin this process, maybe that is the meeting this weekend?

  27. Doctor J Says:

    @MdusdMom No we don’t need to cut $1.5 now — We can temporarily take that out of the budget reserves. We need to show on paper budget that three years down the road we will have cut and the budget can project those cuts. Its more important now to have a Strategic Plan. The other really sad point is that even with the school closures, the emotional trauma to the children who show up to school to learn their school is being closed but the District has NO PLAN on where they will go to school next year. Why not ? Staff should have had all of these contingenicies already drawn up, so once the decision was made, we would have known exactly where the children would go. What has Lawrence and his staff been doing — they are unprepared.

  28. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The board has a “team building” retreat scheduled at 9 a.m. Sunday at the San Ramon Marriott Hotel: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/com/agenda_print.aspx?mtgId=316. The public may attend this meeting and comment.
    This is not the strategic planning meeting, although that topic may come up.
    Originally, the board had discussed two retreats: one to get to know each other better (especially new board members) and one to discuss strategic planning. The strategic planning meeting date hasn’t been set yet because trustees haven’t been able to agree on a date. It could get pushed back to April if they can’t agree on any dates in February or March.
    Also, I’ve heard that Tuesday’s board meeting will be held in the Glenbrook MS gym.

  29. Doctor J Says:

    The Board retreat is a public meeting. Everyone interested in the Strategic Plan ought to be there.

  30. Doctor J Says:

    The Board closes two schools on Tuesday because of lack of money and then rents the Marriott on Sunday. Is there something wrong with this picture ?

  31. Linda Says:

    I have to believe they will spend some time talking about strategic planning. I will definitely be there.

  32. Poseidon Says:

    Dr. J,

    It sounds like the board is going to talk about strategic planning. You have said that you will attend when that happens. Are you going to follow through on your promise or just remain in the shadows and run your mouth. Its time to put up or shut up.

  33. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Yes, the agenda also includes “district priority setting,” which would seem to include strategic planning.
    Interesting that they’re not meeting in the Willow Creek Center, which some people have suggested closing instead of schools.
    When I was covering the city of Walnut Creek, the council often held its retreats in city-owned facilities to save money.

  34. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Board President Gary Eberhart describes the “next steps” in the school closure process and asks for feedback in his latest blog post: http://bit.ly/eS2ivI

  35. Doctor J Says:

    @ Poseidon, Please don’t misquote me. I said I would be involved in the Strategic Plan process. It hasn’t started yet. It will involve all stakeholders. The Board has yet to adopt a process to develop a Strategic Plan. Does anyone know what room at the Marriott the meeting will be held in ?

  36. Wait a Minute Says:

    The Marriot huh!

    Along with all their high priced consultants and then they have the arrogance to rent space at the Marriot instead of using MDUSD or city facilities?

    Good luck passing anymore parcel taxes or other bonds with that kind of demonstration of profligate spending in the face of crisis.

    Honestly, it would probably be better if the State came in and took over the MDUSD.

    The State actually has a pretty good track record when they take over districts, mainly because they replace the incompetent management that led to the crisis to begin with.

  37. Doctor J Says:

    Imagine this Sunday morning scenario at the Marriott, hundreds of kids and parents picketing to keep their school open. I’ll bet the Marriott will be happy about that ! Film at 11.

  38. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The school board retreat is at 9 a.m. Sunday in Salon 2 at the San Ramon Marriott Hotel, 2600 Bishop Drive, San Ramon. Trustees expect to discuss board team building and district priority setting.

  39. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The district has changed the location of the retreat. It will be held at the district office instead of the San Ramon Marriott Hotel.
    Here’s the updated agenda link: http://bit.ly/fWUAHu

  40. Doctor J Says:

    Did the Marriott cancel them or did Gary read my posts and come to his senses ?

  41. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I don’t know why the decision was made. I had a voicemail message from the superintendent’s secretary when I arrived at work today.

  42. Doctor J Says:

    Anonamom blogged on the Claycord that it violated the Brown Act by being outside the jurisdiction of MDUSD. I guess we can add Marriottgate to Gary’s list of accomplishments.

  43. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The board met Nov. 20, 2009 in West Sacramento to interview Steven Lawrence: http://esbpublic.mdusd.k12.ca.us/Public_agendaview.aspx?mtgid=256
    No one said that meeting violated the Brown Act.

  44. Susan Berg Says:

    Theresa,
    There is a specific provision in Government Code 54950-54963 (the Brown Act) that allows for the November 20, 2009, out-of-district Board “meeting” you cite. Because it’s standard for most if not all Board members to visit the current workplace of a finalist for the Superintendent position, the gathering of a majority of Board members outside the district for this purpose is permissible. An agenda with the location is posted publicly. Here’s the part of the law which applies to the Board visit to West Sacramento:

    Section 54954
    (c) Meetings of the governing board of a school district shall be held within the district except under the circumstances enumerated in subdivision(b), or to do any of the following:
    (1) Attend a conference on nonadversarial collective
    bargaining techniques.
    (2) Interview members of the public residing in another
    district with reference to the trustees’ potential
    employment of the superintendent of that district.
    (3) Interview a potential employee from another district.

  45. Doctor J Says:

    Theresa, “without explanation” ? How about after anonamom sent an email to Lawrence complaining about a Brown Act violation ?

  46. Wondering Says:

    I still can’t understand how they can justify closing down two schools in the same neighborhood. Can legal action be taken about this?

  47. 4Students Says:

    Using google I quickly found a simple 2-page Brown Act flyer which clearly states in the second column these meetings should be held inside the district http://www.thefirstamendment.org/Brown-Act-Brochure-DEC-03.pdf

    Is the general counsel’s office responsible for Brown Act compliance? Should we give them a copy of this flyer?

  48. Dan Says:

    The board doesn’t really care about Brown act compliance (see buttercupgate) they only comply when they get called out on it ahead of time.

    For evidence of how little they care about it just take a look at Lynn Dennler’s repeated surprise about basic Brown Act rules during her discussions during the meetings.

    On a second issue is where and from whom did the mysterious $250 donation come from for the Mariott? Sherry Whitmarsh clearly said it was a donation, but when I emailed the board to ask about it Gary responded saying the $250 would come out of Staff development categorical funds. This seems very suspicious to me.

  49. Sherry Whitmarsh Says:

    I did not tell Gary nor the Superintendent about the donation. Because of all the issues that people were having with the $250 meeting room charge, it was suggested that someone would pay for the room so the district did not have to. On Thursday I found out about the venue change. Since the meeting location was changed, nothing further was done with acquiring the money.

    Any additional questions can be direct to me at sherry@mdusd.net

  50. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Wondering: One Glenbrook parent said she would file a complaint with the Office of Civil Rights if both schools were closed, saying the board targeted a low-income, ethnically diverse neighborhood. Another parent said a lawsuit may be filed.
    It is somewhat surprising the board made this decision, since “geographic equity” was one of the eight criteria evaluated by the School Closure Advisory Committee: “To the extent possible, school closure candidates should allow the district to continue to operate schools/programs which serve the geographic areas, or identified feeder pattern areas, of the district.”
    The committee rated Holbrook 18 and Glenbrook 14 on a scale of 1-20 in this category (however, schools were rated individually, which may have meant that all other schools in the feeder pattern were assumed to remain open.)
    In contrast, the committee rated Silverwood 11, Wren Avenue 5, Monte Gardens 1, Sequoia Elementary 1 and Sequoia MS 2. Westwood Elementary received a 20 — the highest rating possible.

  51. 4Students Says:

    It’s crazy! The new proposal is to keep Glenbrook students together and mix with El Dorado students, and then separate Glenbrook and El Dorado again for high school. Other districts change boundaries every year and MDUSD is way overdue. They need to go back to the drawing board and organize coherent feeder patterns, where students stay together and don’t mix from kindergarten to graduation, to build communities that will support their schools. Look at the map so students don’t have to go over hills, cross freeways, or drive/bus miles. Meet with City Hall and transit officials to arrange for traffic and safety. Consolidate K-5, K-6, 6-12, 7-12. Start with a long-term plan!

  52. Susan Berg Says:

    Theresa, I’m confused about the ratings you cite. Do they mean that 1) Westwood, at 20, can be closed because its geographic area would still be served and that 2) Monte Gardens and Sequoia, both at 1, cannot be closed because then their geographic areas would not be served? Just trying to understand this one criterion makes me appreciate the difficult work the school closure committee members had to do.

    Also, on Tuesday did the Board vote just to close Glenbrook and Holbrook or did the action include moving other programs onto those sites? Reports on the Board action mention only the two school closures.

  53. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Susan, Unfortunately, the committee never really explained this criterion to the public. Its Nov. 8 minutes, which were supposed to shed light on how the members rated schools, does little to elaborate on this criterion.
    Here’s what it says:
    “Criteria #6 Geographic Equity:
    How many students actually live within the boundaries of the school?
    Special programs such as Alliance, Crossroads can be held anywhere in the district
    Considered migration out and migration in data.”
    Rose Lock said that schools with lower scores would be the most likely ones to be identified for closure, so I would assume that a low score means other schools could absorb the students and a high score means the school should stay open. But, this isn’t really spelled out anywhere in the committee notes, as far as I can tell.
    Regarding the vote last Tuesday, I did not attend the meeting because I was out of town. However, the agenda for next Tuesday merely states that trustees voted to close Glenbrook and Holbrook. Gary Eberhart’s blog also says the board voted to close those schools, but doesn’t say whether trustees decided what to do with the closed campuses. I’ll try to get clarification on that today. Trustees also didn’t officially remove Wren Avenue from the list, as far as I can tell. Yet, Eberhart says that only Silverwood and Westwood are still under consideration.
    I also haven’t been able to verify Eberhart’s assertion that the district would get to keep the $1.1 million if all Glenbrook students move to El Dorado. The SIG application specifically states that “the applicant will ensure that funds are spent as indicated in the sub-grant proposal and agree that funds will be used ONLY in the school(s) identified….”
    Since El Dorado is not on the state’s list of lowest-achieving schools, I’m not sure how the district can assure the state that the grant money would only serve the former Glenbrook students.

  54. Wait a Minute Says:

    This is potentially a game changer.
    I’ll tell you what, if the Federal Office of Civil Rights investigates the MDUSD because of parent(s) complaints that they are targeting low income areas for school closures Lawrence, Eberhart and the others will wish they only had to deal with a local Grand Jury inquiry.
    When OCR comes in they REALLY investigate and they have the resources to do so!
    They also tend to stay for years sometimes depending on the severity of the problems.

  55. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The district’s failure to completely adhere to the state’s school closure “best practices” could be questioned in such an investigation, I would assume.
    Glenbrook’s staff said they are worried about losing the great facilities they now have, which include central air conditioning and classroom technology such as Smart Boards, digital document readers and LCD projectors.
    Last spring, I visited El Dorado MS for a story I was doing about lack of air conditioning, where some classrooms were baking at 90-degrees. Glenbrook students won’t be able to function well in those conditions if they move to El Dorado, a Glenbrook teacher told me.

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