SALIDA — Salida Union School District trustees made the painful decision Tuesday night to close Mildred Perkins Elementary School because of declining enrollment and to help balance the budget for the next school year.
"I am brokenhearted," said Trustee Catie Englebright before the trustees' vote. Her comments were echoed by the other trustees.
The trustees voted 5-0 to close the campus for the next school year. Closing Perkins will save the district $339,000 a year, interim Superintendent Twila Tosh said after the meeting.
The district was faced with closing Mildred Perkins or Salida elementary schools, the district's two smallest campuses.
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"Closing a school means laying off more people," Trustee Gary Dew said. "I'm tired of this. But we need a balanced budget."
Unlike previous meetings in which scores of teachers, parents and community members spoke about the impending closure, just a couple of people spoke Tuesday night.
But more than 150 parents, students, teachers and community members attended the board meeting at the Sisk Elementary School cafeteria.
School district trustees and the audience also received more bad financial news. A consultant told them that they may need to cut $500,000 to $1.16 million more from next year's budget.
The district will have a better idea after Gov. Schwarzenegger issues his May revise for the state budget year that starts July 1.
"That's what we are thinking about, that's what we are worrying about," said consultant Terri Ryland, who is working with the district on its budget and finances.
The potential cuts are in addition to the $3.25 million the district has said it needs to cut from its $23.395 million budget for the next school year.
Ryland said she and Tosh learned about the potential for deeper budget cuts at a Stanislaus County Office of Education meeting in late February with officials from other school districts.
Before the trustees' vote and public comment, Tosh walked the trustees and audience members through a detailed comparison of the two schools in terms of the costs of operating them, the programs they offer and other factors.
She said the district — which has four elementary schools and one middle school and 2,900 students — is facing declining enrollment. She said the district's four elementary schools can have as many as 3,450 students but enroll 1,919 students. The district had about 3,500 students just several years ago.
She said the district hopes to reopen the closed elementary school within two to four years.
In the meantime, the district hopes to open a charter school at Perkins, which would draw students from outside of Salida, and rent part of the campus to the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
Perkins students will enroll in other district schools and Perkins teachers — except for those who are retiring or are laid off — will move to other campuses.
Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2316.