The district was contemplating whether to close Bernard Eldredge or Old Adobe Elementary School to help deal with a projected $1.7 million budget deficit for next year. By closing Bernard Eldredge, the district stands to save about $390,000 per school year.

Parents and staff members pointed out to board members the virtues of the two schools during meetings the past few weeks, in an attempt to keep them open. Bernard Eldredge supporters lauded the school's new Spanish-English Dual Immersion program, family atmosphere, diversity, central location and proximity to the Lucchesi Park Clubhouse of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Marin and Southern Sonoma Counties.

But board members felt they needed to close one of the two schools, considering the amount of money that needed to be cut. The board used six criteria — enrollment, K-6 instructional considerations, facilities, interdependent programs, community needs and school boundaries — to reach its decision.

"Closing a school is probably one of the, if not the, most difficult thing that a board has to do, but we didn't have any other options — and we're still not where we need to get to, financially," said Rick Parker, the board president.

The board is encouraging Bernard Eldredge families to come to its meeting at the school at 6:30 p.m. on April 15. New boundaries will be established for the remaining four schools, and there will be an effort to essentially keep second- through sixth-grade classes from Bernard Eldredge together.

"We want to tell families what their options are. We have room to accommodate students with open arms at our other four schools," Parker said.

In January, the board announced that due to declining revenues, increasing budget deficits and fewer students, it might need to close a school beginning in the 2011-2012 school year, but in February, it found that district revenues for the current and following two school years had been overstated by about $450,000 for each year.

So, last month, the board began exploring whether to close Bernard Eldredge or Old Adobe — the two schools with the lowest enrollment among Old Adobe's five elementary schools. — in 2010-2011.

The timeline to deal with a possible school closure initially called for Superintendent Diane Zimmerman to make a preliminary recommendation to the board on Thursday, and for the final decision to be made on April 22. Zimmerman recommended that Bernard Eldredge be closed, and the board reached its decision three weeks ahead of schedule.

"At previous board meetings, we began looking at the two sites, and then brought additional criteria to the board," Parker said. "We also looked at other districts around the state that have been dealing with school closures."

"We made the decision on Thursday based upon looking at these criteria and the need to give directives as soon as people to people involved in the transitional process," he added.

Old Adobe had 265 students in the 2000-2001 school year, and currently has 254 enrolled. Bernard Eldredge has steadily slipped from 443 in 2000-2001 to 207 this year, including 52 in the Dual Immersion program.

The Dual Immersion program will continue to be offered, but it is unclear if it will be at the Bernard Eldredge campus or at another school. Parker says that the board does not plan to sell the Bernard Eldredge property, and is considering other possible uses for it, such as leasing it to other educational entities or relocating the district offices there and then selling the property at 845 Crinella Drive, where the offices now are located.

Statistical trends suggest that Old Adobe would be more likely than Bernard Eldredge to attract additional students, and less likely to lose students to other districts. Also, some parents consider standardized test scores a critical factor when determining where to enroll their children, and Old Adobe students generally have performed better on standardized tests than Bernard Eldredge students, partly because Bernard Eldredge has a much higher percentage of English-language learners.

Besides the estimated $390,000 saved by closing Bernard Eldredge, the board also recently decided to redirect around $145,000 in Tier III funding —including $45,000 in library funding — and the teachers' union approved establishing eight furlough days for next school year, which will save an estimated $226,000, and changing benefits providers, which will save approximately $47,000.

(Contact Dan Johnson at dan.johnson@arguscourier.com)