January 18, 2013

Editorial: Time to match city schools with enrollment

Two of the Sacramento region's largest school districts – Sacramento City Unified and San Juan Unified – have experienced steep declines in enrollment in the past decade. Both are similar in size at about 47,300 students.

To date, however, the San Juan school board has done much more than the Sacramento City Unified board to match the number of students with the right number of buildings.

San Juan Unified, for example, has 42 schools teaching elementary students.

Sacramento City Unified has 56, far too many elementary schools for the number of students it has.

To see the magnitude of needed change, consider the numbers.

In 2001, Sacramento City Unified had 31,200 children in the K-6 grades; by 2011, it had 27,200. That's a loss of 4,000 students – 160 classrooms of 25 each.

Superintendent Jonathan Raymond has rightly recommended that the board close under-enrolled elementary schools. He has proposed 11 schools for closure – saving $2.5 million a year or just over $227,000 a year per school.

This difficult task no longer can be postponed. Between the economic downturn and declining enrollment, the district has had to cut teachers, counselors, custodians, plant managers, librarians, school nurses, assistant principals, central office staff, bus transportation and adult education.

Closing under-enrolled schools can help reverse some of that.

The school board should support the superintendent's 11-school plan as a package. As board president Jeff Cuneo has said, a comprehensive approach is better than pulling schools out individually for consideration. "We need to look at it holistically as a structural issue," he said.

No one relishes closing schools. But as Sacramento City Teachers Association president Scott Smith has said, "When schools are too small, it takes away resources from other schools."

As the board makes a tough decision on these schools, it should ensure that students have safe transportation to their new schools – setting up bus routes, crossing guards and walking attendants in the 11 communities.

And the board should go the extra mile to make sure the 11 buildings do not stand vacant. They should be adapted for new uses, whether regional child care centers or other partnerships that can add to those communities.

The board will vote on the superintendent's plan on Feb. 21. Keeping vastly under-enrolled schools open is not sustainable, draining resources from other schools. It is time to right-size the Sacramento City Unified School District.

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