W. Contra Costa considers closing 5 schools

January 29, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The state budget crisis is forcing some tough decisions among school districts. The superintendent released his recommended closures for the West Contra Costa Unified School District on Thursday night.

They are: El Sobrante Elementary in El Sobrante, Castro Elementary in El Cerrito, Adams Middle School in Richmond, Lake Elementary in San Pablo, and Shannon Elementary in Pinole. Still, as parents learned Thursday night, this is by no means a done deal.

Parents put on the full court press Thursday night to try to save their school. It looked like speaking out against the school closures made an impact on the district's decision.

Passionate parents used every tactic in the book.

"We really need labor action, we need student action, good old fashioned walk outs, strikes, sit downs, teach-ins," said Charles Rachlis, a parent.

They pointed out problems, such as the lack of busses to get low income kids to their new schools, after their neighborhood one is shut down.

"We are looking at a situation where he is asking people to travel distances that are not reasonable," said Linda Price, a parent.

They even sacrificed other schools in order to save their own. Parents and teachers spoke out against the plan to close 12 campuses in the next two years. About 275 people, including several young children, cheered them on.

"I just pray I really pray they were listening to us tonight," said Kristyn Jones, a teacher.

There is evidence that district officials did listen. The superintendent admitted that past meetings like this one did impact his final proposal.

"Naturally we're concerned about the walk and distance our students will have. In fact one of the original recommendations was changed because it was going to make walk distances too far," said Bruce Harter, the West Contra Costa School District superintendent.

And one board member said he already knows of at least one school on the list, Olinda Middle School, that he wants to keep open.

"I personally, Antonio Medrano, will not vote to close schools with a high API score, because they are telling us those schools are doing what we want schools to do," said Antonio Medrano a board member.

But all of the emotions don't change the facts -- the West Contra Costa School District has a $16 million deficit to deal with. Board members say they know they have a tough decision to make and they know there will be some unhappy parents.

"If I was not on the school board I'd probably be out there with them speaking not to close schools," said Medrano.

There will be a few more community meetings then the school board will decide which schools to close. The superintendant said that this proposal he put forth will save about $18.5 million over five years.

List of possible school closures:
El Sobrante Elementary in El Sobrante
Castro Elementary in El Cerrito
Adams Middle School in Richmond
Lake Elementary in San Pablo
Shannon Elementary in Pinole