The agenda for Tuesday’s Mt. Diablo school board meeting, which is likely to include another vote on the school closure issue, has been posted.
But Superintendent Steven Lawrence isn’t recommending closing another school. Instead, he says in his staff report that he believes the district can reach its goal of saving $1.5 million a year by:
• Closing Glenbrook Middle and Holbrook Elementary schools in north Concord as planned (and forfeiting nearly $1.2 million in Glenbrook’s School Improvement Grant funding over the next two years);
• Developing a program at the closed Glenbrook site that would “allow us to reduce the number of special education students served by nonpublic schools;”
• Redrawing boundary lines around crowded schools to “minimize overflow transportation costs;”
• “Investigate ways to meet student needs in our Necessary Small High Schools more efficiently;” and
• Provide “online learning opportunities” to students in the district’s Independent Study\Horizon and Home study programs.
One big question is whether Lawrence can provide the board with hard numbers to back up this recommendation and show the savings he is promising. The other huge caveat is in his introduction to the recommendation:
“Provided the Governor’s Budget proposal is approved and our funding is only reduced by $18.38 per student…”
This means that if Gov. Jerry Brown’s funding proposal is not approved (and voters don’t approve his proposed tax extension), the district would have to make much deeper cuts, which could include more school closures. Obviously, the district won’t know that until after the proposed June election.
Lawrence also notes in his staff report that:
“The purpose of this Board item is to:
1. Answer Board questions asked at the Tuesday, February 15, 2011 Board workshop;
2. Consider whether additional facilities need to be closed. Currently, Silverwood, Westwood, and Willow Creek are being considered;
3. Consider consolidation or closure of Necessary Small High School programs and Diablo Community Day School;
4. Provide an opportunity for staff to make a recommendation to the Board.”
As has been seen in the past, trustees can also bring up their own ideas and will likely discuss the idea brought up by Board President Gary Eberhart to “move” Glenbrook to the Westwood Elementary site, if the board were to close that campus.
At the Feb. 15 meeting, Lawrence suggested consolidating some small necessary high schools on the Olympic High School campus. However, teacher Skip Weinstock told me there is no room on that campus for a new program, unless the Alliance special education and/or Crossroads small necessary high school for pregnant teens and teen moms were moved.
Weinstock suggested the district could instead move small necessary high schools to the Mt. Diablo High School campus, which is in the same area of Concord and has excess capacity.
Trustee Linda Mayo asked Feb. 15 whether Lawrence had considered consolidating small necessary high schools on the Ygnacio Valley High School campus, which also has excess capacity.
Some Glenbrook Middle School parents have expressed concerns about the idea of locating a nonpublic special education program in their neighborhood, since it could include students who are severely emotionally troubled. Hopefully, Lawrence will give more details about the type of program he envisions.
Glenbrook parents and staff also question the estimated savings for closing Glenbrook, if it is instead used to house another program. If the district is going to essentially “keep it open” for another student population, they wonder why it doesn’t just allow Glenbrook to continue to operate there, keeping it’s $1.2 million grant over the next two years. Could a nonpublic school instead be housed on the Holbrook site?
According to the state’s school closure “best practices” advice: “Some of the alternatives as listed below do not involve real cost savings if this is the focus of reasons for school closure: …
reorganize attendance boundaries;
use surplus classrooms for other district functions;
enter into joint-use/joint occupancy agreements;
convert to community day school use;
convert to a small high school;…”
Also, Lawrence hasn’t been specific about how “redrawing boundaries” would affect the families of students in new boundary areas. Currently, overcrowded schools are in low-income areas of Concord and Bay Point.
Now, the district pays to bus “overflow” students to other campuses. If the district redraws the boundaries, some of those students would likely be assigned to schools that are farther away from their homes. But their parents would be responsible for getting them there, since the district wouldn’t have to bus them anymore. This could place additional financial hardship on low-income families.
Lawrence also hasn’t clarified what would happen to families now living in the Glenbrook attendance area whose children are bused to other schools on No Child Left Behind transfers (since Glenbrook is a low-achieving school). Office manager Berta Shatswell said these transfers are supposed to be in effect for all three years of middle school. But, if the school closes, will the district honor its promise to bus those children to other schools for two more years? If so, where would they be picked up? If not, these students could be in for a big surprise.
Some in the community have questioned the district’s decision-making process regarding school closures. Contra Costa Times columnist Tom Barnidge attended the Feb. 15 board meeeting and has been following the issue.
You can see his take on the process in his latest column, entitled: “Mt. Diablo trustees making closures as painful as possible.”
Do you agree with Barnidge’s assertion that “Every decision seems to be a reactive, knee-jerk fix to problems as they arise without long-range considerations”?