Old Adobe faces tough decisions
Concerns over possible school closure expressed at board meeting
Published: Thursday, March 18, 2010 at 1:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 17, 2010 at 4:19 p.m.
A highly competitive, downright nasty situation can develop when a district that might be closing one school identifies two likely candidates.
But in the Old Adobe Union School District, where Bernard Eldredge and Old Adobe elementary schools have been designated as the candidates for possible closure beginning next school year due to a projected $1.7 million deficit, a generally respectful spirit seems to prevail.
“Both schools have lots of wonderful, unique things about them: There is not one better than the other, said Michelle Novotny, the mother of two students at Bernard Eldredge, at the Old Adobe school board meeting on March 11. “I am sure that there are a long list of amazing things going on at Old Adobe. I imagine the parents at Old Adobe are just as sick (about this) as we are at Bernard Eldredge.”
“I think that the meeting really opened up some nice dialogue in the community for the future of our school district,” said Superintendent Diane Zimmerman. “It wasn't an easy dialogue: It was a tough dialogue that raised questions about what Old Adobe, as a district, should be.”
Dozens of parents, teachers, staff members and community leaders conveyed their feelings about a school closure at the meeting, and rather than directly elevating the virtues of one school over the other, they almost invariably lauded one (or both) of the schools, and emphasized the importance of keeping it open.
Many Old Adobe Elementary School supporters praised it as a caring, nurturing, diverse environment with many successful students.
“It's the yummiest school out there. It's loving, and so special,” said Kathie Shinnick, the parent of an Old Adobe student.
Bernard Eldredge supporters raved about its new Spanish-English Dual Immersion program, as well as the school's diversity, family atmosphere, central location and proximity to the Lucchesi Park Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties.
“Bernard Eldredge is a place where a child's imagination can flourish, a place where my children have friends not just like them, but from other cultures and backgrounds,” Novotny said.
Given the strong emotional attachment people have to the schools, more of a confrontational attitude toward board members might have been expected, but generally, a good deal of empathy for their dilemma was conveyed at the meeting.
“I think that it's fair to say that we work really hard to build a strong community, and that people here generally understand that it's the financial problems that we're facing have been caused by the state, not by us,” Zimmerman said.
In January, the board announced that due to declining revenues, fewer students and increasing budget deficits, it would need to seriously consider closing a school during the 2011-2012 school year. The following month, the board discovered that district revenues for the current and subsequent two school years had been overstated by around $450,000 for each year.
This new discovery, along with Gov. Arnold Schwarzen-egger's proposed budget cuts and a loss of funding due to declining enrollment, has increased the annual budget deficit to a projected $1.7 million by next school year.
The district already has approved over $1.4 million in reductions since the 2008-2009 school year, and is considering several additional options. By closing a school, the district could save an estimated $390,000 per academic year.
Some of the other possibilities, and the amounts that could be saved, through 2012-2013, are: increasing class sizes, $250,000 to $500,000; implementing furlough days, up to $42,000 per day; and redirecting Tier III program funding, $160,000 to $251,000.
At the board meeting, members voted to redirect around $100,000 in Tier III funding during the next two years, and decided to further discuss possibly redirecting some of the library funding. The board has reached a tentative agreement with the teachers' union over establishing eight furlough days, which would save up to $42,000 per day, and changing benefits providers, which would save around $47,000 each year on an ongoing basis. The union is scheduled to vote on both matters on Tuesday, March 23.
The district also might reduce or eliminate transportation, which would save at least $64,000 per year on an ongoing basis.
Old Adobe Union School District had $3.78 million in savings at the beginning of the current academic year, and if closing a school and other budget reductions are not made, this balance will sink to an estimated $1.32 million in 2010-2011 and reach a deficit of $341,000 in 2011-2012. If the district does not maintain a 3 percent reserve, it may need a state loan to continue to operate, a state manager could be appointed to manage it, the superintendent could be removed and the governing board could become an advisory-only entity.
Old Adobe's board already has agreed to a target of $500,000 in additional cutbacks for the next two academic years. If all of the considered cutbacks except a school closure are made, the school district would have around $659,000 in savings, rather than a deficit of $341,000 at the beginning of the 2011-2012 school year. This would exceed the minimum 3 percent reserve of $437,437, but additional state education cutbacks could change this scenario entirely.
The board still is seeking public input as it examines whether or not to recommend closing a school, and if so, which one. The board now is to establish objective criteria to be used, and conduct its first review of the criteria by March 25, and the second review by April 15.
“We need to listen to everyone who comes into the room,” Zimmerman said.
She will make a preliminary recommendation to the board, which is scheduled to make a final decision by April 22. If a school closure is not recommended, the board is to decide on a process and timeline to be considered for a closure in subsequent school years.
“I don't think we have many alternatives, but the board can do what it wants,” Zimmerman said.
She remains optimistic, however.
“These are tough times for schools, and I hope our community will continue to work together, she said. “We can take lemons and make lemon meringue pie out of them.
“At some point, we'll be OK.”
(Contact Dan Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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