Sacramento City Unified considers closing 11 elementary schools

mgutierrez@sacbee.comJanuary 17, 2013 

Through automated phone calls and letters sent home in backpacks, the parents of nearly 3,700 students at 11 elementary schools in the Sacramento City Unified School District learned Wednesday their campuses are being considered for closure.

The city school district anticipates saving an estimated $10 million over the next four years by closing the following under-enrolled elementary schools: Washington Elementary in midtown; Maple Elementary in south Sacramento; Collis P. Huntington Elementary in south Sacramento; Susan B. Anthony Elementary in Meadowview; Tahoe Elementary in Tahoe Park; Fruit Ridge Elementary in south Sacramento; James Marshall Elementary in Rosemont; Joseph Bonnheim Elementary in Colonial Village; Mark Hopkins Elementary in Meadowview; Bret Harte Elementary in Curtis Park; and Clayton B. Wire Elementary in south Sacramento.

Sacramento City Unified trustees will discuss the closures at a school board meeting tonight and are scheduled to vote on the issue Feb. 21.

"This is one of the more difficult things a superintendent has to do," Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said. "These are not easy things to do."

Conversations about school closures in the past have been punctuated by emotional pleas from parents and students, as well as questions about the methodology in selecting schools. Raymond said he called several Sacramento City Council members in hopes of earning their support.

Councilman Steve Hansen, who lives near and represents areas surrounding Washington Elementary, said Wednesday night that he is disappointed to hear about the potential closure of the school.

"The school serves a population in need," Hansen said. "It's a school that is critical to the downtown and midtown vitality."

To determine which schools should be closed, district officials ranked under- utilized schools by dividing the current enrollment by the site capacity. District spokesman Gabe Ross said a few schools were pulled off the list because their enrollment would increase by the closure of a school higher on the closure list.

Ross said that was the case with A.M. Winn Elementary, which was considered for closure last year. James Marshall Elementary, which was second on the closure list with 35 percent of its facility being utilized, would feed into A.M. Winn, which was third in the rankings before it was given a reprieve.

Father Keith B. Kenny and Oak Ridge elementary schools, which were seventh and 11th in the rankings, would see enrollment increases from the closure of Fruit Ridge, Tahoe and Bret Harte, Ross said. However, Father Keith B. Kenny and Oak Ridge were also excluded because they are "Priority Schools," Ross said.

Priority Schools is a label that Raymond gave to seven of the district's lowest-performing schools designated to be in need of transformation. Leataata Floyd Elementary was taken off the closure list because it is a Priority School. Leataata Floyd has 300 students this school year on a campus that can fit 730 and ranked 10th on the district's list of underutilized schools.

Raymond said Wednesday he felt it was important to not drag out the school closures over several years by closing two or three at a time.

"Sometimes you have to do it and get it done with," Raymond said. "We said we want to get this district right-sized and moving forward. We think closing two or three schools is just as difficult of a process to go through from a staff and community perspective, so why not do it all?"

Sacramento City Unified was anticipating a $10 million to $12 million deficit for the 2013-2014 school year prior to the governor's favorable budget proposal. Ross said the district anticipates that its deficit will be reduced, but not fully.

School board President Jeff Cuneo said the decision to close schools is a budget decision, but it's also a structural issue.

"Regardless of whether our fiscal picture gets rosier, the lack of capacity in our schools still creates a drag on our district fiscally," Cuneo said.

Sacramento City Unified has closed 11 schools since 2000, including Freeport Elementary in Meadowview last year.

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