Thursday, October 13, 2011
SAN DIEGO About 160 Kindergarten through fifth graders attend Cadman Elementary in the Bay Ho neighborhood near Clairemont. Their school is one of about 10 San Diego Unified is considering closing next fall.
District officials are estimating they will have to cut between $60 and $118 million from next year's school budget. They have said all options for cutting costs have to be on the table at this point, even closing schools.
But when parents, teachers and staff found out that district officials were suggesting closing Cadman, they were surprised. They think the school is just hitting its stride.
“It has become a fine-arts school, it’s called an arts-focused school. Using theater, art, music and dance," said the school's still-new principal, Elizabeth Ballard. "We are the only elementary school in Clairemont to offer all of those elements.
Cadman is being eyed for closure in part because its test scores are below state targets and enrollment is about 90 students short of what the campus can accommodate. But Ballard only joined the school in the spring and is intent on improving test scores, enrollment and the physical campus
Ballard enlisted an architect who drew up plans to redesign the school’s ground pro bono. Now, the courtyard between Cadman’s classroom buildings and its library has a playground at one end and the rest of the area is blacktop and a large patch of dirt.
If Cadman parents and staff can raise the funds, the area will be transformed into a grass lawn, with a large pond surrounded by trees next to the playground.
Parents like Deanne Hutchison are frustrated they may not get the opportunity to see their plans come to fruition.
“We’re not just sitting around waiting, we’re actually really implementing a lot of brain power and time and emphasis on what we can do as a family, a community, parents, ourselves. And there are private funds that have come into play due to that; there are a lot of plans for improvements on the campus,” she said.
For students, fears about Cadman closing have less to do with long-term plans and more to do with familiarity.
“Well, I’d be pretty sad because I just love this school, I’ve been going to it for a long time and all of my friends are here,” said Mikenzi Learned, a fourth grader at Cadman. “It would be really sad if all of my friends went to a different school and I couldn’t really talk to them or see them anymore.”
Some wonder if the dollars saved will be worth the disruption to students.
“Supposedly that money goes back into rotation, but will it really, or will it just disappear again and we’re still in the same situation? But, all these kids who’ve been at this school and are thriving and know their teachers and teachers know them. What happens to them? And that’s the biggest concern,” said Dara Bilow. Her son was a student at Ballard’s last school. She liked Ballard’s style so much she followed her to Cadman to volunteer once her son entered middle school.
After six years of cuts totaling about $450 million, district officials argue there are not many other options left for balancing the budget.
“We believe now at this point, that we’ve cut so much in those past six years that we’re having to look at core, basic infrastructure of the district in order to be able to survive into the future,” said Phil Stover, deputy superintendent for business for San Diego Unified. He was talking to parents and administrators at the Clairemont Cluster meeting where’s Cadman’s place on the list of possible closures was announced.
Nothing is more basic to the district’s infrastructure than schools. Each closed campus would save about half a million in operating costs and free up capital funds.
“We’re always making choices between very difficult things,” said Jon Lee Evans, vice president of the Board of Education. “Right now we’re talking about a potential savings of about $5 million. That amount of money – just off the top of my head – might be somewhere between 60 and 80 teachers, which is about the number for, say, in Kindergarten the difference between being 24 students and 29 or 30 throughout the district.”
In addition to Cadman, San Diego Unified officials are recommending closing or reconfiguring schools that are part of the Mission Bay, Crawford, Hoover, Madison, Serra, Henry, Kearny, Morse, Point Loma and Atypical Schools clusters.
“I know that we’re looking at private funds, that we’re looking at every area we can. This budget crisis is a real crisis,.” Principal Ballard said. “And I do know that the district and the board – the last thing that they want to do is close schools. That is not their choice, but they have to do something about the money. So, we’re trying to help solve that problem.”
Communities will weigh in on the district’s closure proposals through November and the Board of Education will vote on final recommendations before the end of the year.
Video by Katie Euphrat