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Mt. Diablo school closures prompt continued questions

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 at 7:03 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district.

Some Holbrook Elementary parents and teachers who attended Tuesday’s Mt. Diablo school board meeting are frustrated that trustees didn’t respond to their proposal to convert the K-5 school to a K-6 campus instead of closing it.

Today, parent Kelly Van Boekhout sent trustees the following invitation:

“Subject: An Invitation

Hello Board,
I attended the Board meeting last night.
I stood up at Public Comment and extended an invitation to you. No one responded to me.
So I would like to extend the invitation again.

I would like to ask you to come to Holbrook Elementary to hold an open forum with our parents, staff and community to address our questions and concerns over your decision to close our school.

We have presented questions to you at Board meetings that have gone unanswered. They are not rhetorical questions. They are things we would like to know the answers to and things we would like to understand. If you fail to respond to us directly, how do you expect us to understand your decision?

It is not a matter of whether or not we will ‘go along’ with your decision. We have no choice. It’s a matter of whether or not we will move into the next school year understanding that our Board is making decisions to the best of their abilities in serving as many students as possible. It is a matter of whether or not we will have faith and trust in our Board.

I do not claim to be capable of doing a ‘better’ job than any of you at balancing what is now a completely upside down budget. And I understand that there is no way to give any student money that you simply don’t have.
Please understand that I extend this invitation to you with the utmost respect.

We would simply like answers from the people who know the ‘how and why’ the decision was made.

Please come to Holbrook.”

During the meeting, Van Boekhout addressed the board twice: once during general public comment and once before trustees voted to change boundaries for students who currently attend Holbrook and Glenbrook Middle School.

First, she spoke about the meeting held Monday night at Holbrook with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for Student Achievement and School Support. Here’s what Van Boekhout said:

“Last night, you sent Rose Lock to our school to discuss our new boundaries. She had no answers for our questions and could only make notations of our concerns with the intent of returning them to you.

You have made a decision that greatly affects our entire community, and I feel that we deserve at least a minimal amount of respect .

At this point, all the questions we have asked, answers we have proposed and concerns we have stated have fallen on deaf ears and have been blatantly ignored.

I would like to ask you to come to Holbrook and hold an open forum with the parents, staff and community where you, the people WITH the answers can address our questions and concerns.”

Later, Van Boekhout talked about her daughter, who attends Holbrook, before the board voted to send Holbrook students to Sun Terrace and Wren Avenue elementary schools. These were her comments:

“Last year my daughter STAR tested for the first time. She scored advanced both in English and Mathematics. She did not win her intelligence from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box. She received it from me, her father, her teachers, her SCHOOL.

I would like to make it clear that I have no issue with either Wren or Sun Terrace…I ask that you either rescind your decision to close Holbrook Elementary or that you provide concrete evidence and numbers to prove to this community that it was the best decision possible.”

Parent Adam Delanoy questioned the “geographic equity” of the decision to close both Holbrook Elementary and Glenbrook Middle School, which are in the same neighborhood.

“What I fail to understand and no one has answered,” he said, “is why a district of 150-square miles closed two schools within a mile of each other. This deserves an answer. Many families have students in both schools. Some families will be forced to transport students two miles in one direction and four miles in another direction in busy areas, if they even have transportation. We also deserve an item-by-item cost accounting……if MDUSD is a district where kids come first, then you need to show us.”

John Ferrante, who served on the previous Measure C oversight committee, said the district should redraw boundary lines for all schools because the district is spending money on new classrooms and denying transfers based on overcrowding.

“Even the federal government has enough brains to redraw lines every 10 years,” he said. “We could save taxpayers money.”

Willie Mims, who represents the NAACP in East County, said the district should provide transportation to the displace students.

“When you make a decision that’s going to impact students and communities, there should be some mitigation by the district to alleviate part of their pain,” he said. “Suppose you have families that cannot afford to pay for the bus ride? Then what?”

Superintendent Steven Lawrence said the cost for students to take County Connection buses would be about $720, but the district could provide a bus for $400 per family that would make a round trip to Sun Terrace, Wren Avenue and Holbrook elementary schools; as well as El Dorado or Valley View middle schools.

Although Trustee Lynne Dennler seconded Trustee Linda Mayo’s motion to adopt the proposed boundaries, she ended up voting against it, saying she wasn’t comfortable asking families to pay for the buses.

“I have a very hard time asking any family to add $40 to their monthly budget….,” she said. “These were their schools. We’re closing them.”

Trustee Cheryl Hansen abstained after reiterating her call for an explicit accounting of how much the district is saving by closing Holbrook and Glenbrook as well as how much it is spending on the transition (ie. for vice principals at schools the students will go to). In addition, she repeated her previous request for the district to plan what it will do with the closed campuses.

Mayo said the district can no longer afford to provide busing and it can only do so if families pool together to reimburse the district.

“Of course, it’s not perfect and we do regret that expense for our families,” she said. “We just do not have the funds to support that at this time.”

Sherry Whitmarsh clarified that students’ high school attendance boundaries wouldn’t change.

Board President Gary Eberhart, who participated in the meeting via speakerphone, said the decision to close the schools had been made and the board needed to move forward. He agreed that long-term, the district should look at new boundaries, but said the board didn’t need to add that to staff’s list of duties right away.

Eberhart also asked that Lawrence bring back the district’s School Closure Transition Plan to future meetings so the board could continue to provide direction. He attempted to make a motion to this effect, but General Counsel Greg Rolen said it would need to be placed on an agenda as a separate item, since it was merely an attachment to the school boundaries item. (Also, it wasn’t added 72 hours before the meeting.)

Hansen asked staff to develop new boundary maps for all of the schools that will be receiving students from the closed schools, incorporating the expanded attendance areas.

Do you think the district should look at redrawing boundaries for all schools?

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