Oldest school in Alum Rock District to close


This is not the only district in the state to have to close a school or make other cost cuts in order to grapple with a funding decline due to state budget cuts.

But when you've got a school like Pala Middle that has been around for 71 years, there's bound to be even more emotion. Thursday's decision to close it drew boos from the community. This morning the reality is setting in and it's drawing tears.

From tears to anger and disbelief, parents of Pala Middle School students say they're not sure about the future of their children's education when the school closes its doors next year.

"It's not right. I don't know where the kids are going to go," said parent Angel Gomez.

It's the end of an era of education in the East San Jose community. Opened in 1938, this is the oldest school in the Alum Rock School District.

Now, 480 students will be redirected to other nearby middle schools because budget cuts led to a board decision last night to close this one campus.

None of the protests from hundreds of students, teachers and parents could stop the decision, and teachers say it will hurt the continuity of working closely with students they get to know.

"I was actually hoping to work with them another year, and at this point I'm not going to have that opportunity. They're going to be dispersed throughout the district," said Pala Middle School teacher Michael Kretsch.

Teachers have been told they will not be laid off, although 60 to 70 positions will be eliminated through attrition or retirement. The district's three-year budget plan also includes increasing class sizes at all its other schools.

The ratio will go from 21 to 25 students next year, then to 31 per teacher after that.

"I'm not happy with the state, what it's been doing... that's where it all began," said Pala Middle School Principal Suzanne Burneikis.

Burneikis understands the steep decline in state funding is what prompted the Alum Rock district to go so far. But she's invested nearly three decades working for the district and is confident the staff there cares enough to educate with whatever resources remain.

"In June when we need to leave, I'm sure there will be tears, but we can hold our head up high knowing that we have given them the best possible education," said Burneikis.

The Alum Rock School District's first interim financial report suggests these budget cut actions will save $11.5 million. Next March, its second financial statement comes out and could lead to further reductions.

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