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Parents, Teachers Reject San Diego School Closure Proposal

Aired 10/26/11 on KPBS News.

Parents, teachers and staff turned out at the Board of Education meeting Tuesday night to reject school closures.

— San Diego Unified staff are suggesting closing or consolidating schools at 13 campuses to save the cash-strapped district about $5 million a year. Parents and teachers from several of those schools filled the audience at last night’s board of education meeting. They spent more than an hour pleading their case to board trustees.

Parents, teachers and staff from Marvin Elementary, Crown Point Junior Music Academy, Cubberley Elementary, Franklin Elementary, Pacific Beach Middle School and Vista Grande Elementary attended San Diego Unified's Board of Education meeting Oct. 25, 2011 to defend their schools, which have been recommended for closure or consolidation.
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Above: Parents, teachers and staff from Marvin Elementary, Crown Point Junior Music Academy, Cubberley Elementary, Franklin Elementary, Pacific Beach Middle School and Vista Grande Elementary attended San Diego Unified's Board of Education meeting Oct. 25, 2011 to defend their schools, which have been recommended for closure or consolidation.

Many highlighted their schools’ unique programs. Susan Hanna has taught Kindergarten at Marvin Elementary for 18 year and points to their transitional kindergarten program for 4-year-olds as a model.

“We’ve had visitors from as far away a Japan come with the intent to borrow ideas from our successful program," she said. "Last year officials from Sacramento came to Marvin to learn more about our junior kindergarten in order to give direction to the state mandated junior kindergarten.”

Pat Lamprella’s daughter goes to Vista Grande Elementary. She said schools spared from closure should spend their money wisely and pointed to student performance on state tests as proof that Vista Grande fit that bill.

“All student groups perform above state and district averages," she said. "Hispanic and African American students have tests scores that are much higher than the district average.”

The district will be gather community input on the closure proposals and staff will present their final suggestions for closures Nov. 29. But, Board President Richard Barrera said even the final recommendations will not be a death toll for all the listed schools.

“There’ll be some recommendations that come forward that probably will get my support, will get support, perhaps, of a majority of the board," he said. "But, I think it’s going to be rare.”

The $5 million saved by closing schools would be just one part of district efforts to close a budget shortfall looming for next school year of between $60 and $118 million.

At the beginning of Tuesday's meeting board members heard a presentation on the consequences of insolvency from Ron Bennett, president of School Services of California.

The district's worst case budget scenario could leave the it unable to balance its budget and in danger of being taken over by the state.

San Diego Unified is hardly alone in staring over a financial cliff, according to Bennett.

“The state has brought virtually every big district in the state to the brink," he said. "Because the big districts tend to be the ones that have the most needy students, they’re the ones that tend to want to offer comprehensive programs across the board for students.”

Last March nearly 150 California school districts were in danger of not being able to meet financial obligations – like bills and payroll - within the next three years. That’s up from 24 districts during the same period in 2007.

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