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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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  • 4Students

    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!

  • Susan Berg

    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.

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.

  • Wait a Minute

    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.

  • Theresa Harrington

    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.