W. Contra Costa Unified will close schools

December 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
In West Contra Costa County, the housing crisis and the bad economy are forcing educators to make some hard choices. As many as 10 schools may be closed over the next two years to balance the budget. Parents got a look at those plans during a meeting with the school board, but weren't allowed to have any input.

The school board presented two scenarios, naming a total of 13 schools that may get cut based upon condition of the building and enrollment.

Angry parents and teachers vented their frustration Thursday night, with the West Contra Costa School District. The state budget crisis is forcing the district to close as many as 10 schools over the next two years.

"Why is there no community input tonight? You're giving us the same pony and cart show you've always given us," said a parent.

The district says it's the only way to trim the $3.6 million deficit it faces. Officials will close a yet to be determined combination of high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools. The buildings will then be sold.

"Why is there no communication?" said another parent.

When you do the math, it's easy to understand why schools in West Contra Costa Unified are in financial trouble. In the past five years, more than 5,000 students have left the district. That represents a loss of about $30 million. Then you have the additional budget cuts coming from Sacramento.

"And with those cuts, those are funds that should be going to schools. If they don't flow to us, we can't continue to pay our expenses," said Charles Ramsey, a school board member.

The district is left with one option: closing schools.

"Those are schools that haven't been renovated and which sit fairly close to each other," said Bruce Harter, the West Contra Costa Unified School superintendent.

"They're going to look at low enrollment, which schools are low, student achievement," said Ramsey.

Coronado Elementary was on the last hit list, even though it's one of the top performing schools in the district.

Tina Ramirez has two children here. She doesn't understand why the school is being targeted.

"My kids don't want to go to their neighboring schools, they want to stay here. So, I don't know. If the school board or the superintendent are listening, don't close it down because they kids really, really need this school," said Tina Ramirez, a parent.

In late January a final consolidation and closure plan will be presented. Two weeks later the board will be asked to approve it. Then the district will try to finalize its negotiations with teachers. They've been without a contract since June.

"When the state is talking about making these huge cuts in schools, it's very difficult to negotiate anything. Teachers aren't willing to have their salaries cut. We did that in 1991 in this district," said Pixie Hayward Schickele, the teachers' union president.

That's the year the district went bankrupt. Today it's still paying down a $29 million loan to the state.

This meeting was the first of eight scheduled between now and February 11, 2009 when a final decision will be made on which campuses will be closed.


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