Trustee puts brakes on keeping 2 schools open

September 26, 2011 6:42:00 PM PDT
Parents whose children attend two schools in West Contra Costa County have been celebrating the school board's decision to keep them open, but now a state trustee is saying not so fast.

The trustee oversees the finances of West Contra Costa Unified School District and while the school board says there is enough money to keep these two schools open, the trustee disagrees.

On Friday, students of Shannon Elementary in Pinole were sent home with a letter stating the school was still on the closure list. This comes after the local school board voted on Sept. 21 to keep both Shannon and Lake Elementary in San Pablo open.

"We are in the midst of planning a celebration for this and now it had to be put on hold," said teacher Mari Tanaka.

The action to overturn the school board's decision was taken by state trustee Linda Grundhoffer.

"We are really concerned that local control is just being thrown out the window," said school board president Charles Ramsey.

A state trustee was appointed years ago after the district was given a $29 million loan. However, on Sept. 21 the board announced after 20 years it was ready to pay off the balance of $9 million -- money that came from selling several district properties.

"We would save $1.4 million in principal and interest on ongoing annual payments because we no longer have to make that and using that money was to offset the cost of these schools," said Ramsey.

And according to Ramsey, even after keeping these two schools open, there would still be enough money left over.

Even St. Sen. Loni Hancock congratulated the board for its action in a letter dated also on Sept. 21.

The state trustee did not return our calls, but in a letter to the board, Grundhoffer said the vote was taken "...without consideration of the state mid-year triggers being enforced."

This could be an indication more budget cuts are expected from Sacramento.

"This is such a downer for all of us, for our children, for us. We are really just trying to work hard to make our school. We have a great school, but the parents, we're all running out of steam," said parent Bev Kabanagh.

Parents will have to see what those December mid-year cuts will bring. In the meantime, the state trustee will have the final word on the future of those two schools.

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