|Office of the Chancellor / Public Affairs||
Wednesday, June 9, 2004
Contra Costa Times 6-9-04
Six East Bay schools finish their last chapters
The end of school means more than shutting down for summer at several schools across the East Bay.
Both the Antioch and Livermore school districts will soon close some campuses -- decisions that came despite much outcry from parents, students and teachers. Three private Catholic schools in Oakland will close as well.
The Livermore school district will close Arroyo Mocho and Almond Avenue elementary schools to save $1 million, a major piece of a plan to close a $2.47 million budget gap.
The Antioch Unified School District faces an even bigger deficit, $7 million, for the 2004-05 school year. It's the result of state funding cuts, inaccurate enrollment projections and $3.3 million in accounting errors. By closing one school, Bidwell Elementary, the district expects to save $460,000. There has been talk of closing another school, but no firm decision has been made.
These come a year after a sort of school-closure high-water mark. The period between July 1, 2002 and June 30, 2003 was a sort of school closure peak, said Robin Lemoine, an informational systems analyst for the California Department of Education. That year, there were 116 closures.
This year's announced East Bay closures are among 46 statewide that have either happened or been announced between July 2003 and July 1 of this year. Ten years ago, there were 68 school closures.
The state does not track reasons why specific schools close, Lemoine said, though financial problems of some sort spark most closures. The state education department's school-closure numbers can mislead, he said; for example, a school turning from an elementary school into a middle school is still counted as a closure.
While the Livermore district has asked teachers to not start packing until after students leave, there are signs that the end is near. On Thursday, Almond Avenue staff members were in the library, which normally would be closed by now, packing up the 12,000 books that will be dispersed throughout the remaining 12 schools. Stamped inside the books, with the help of students, was a note saying "Read with pride by students at Arroyo Mocho Elementary School Spring 2004."
"It gives them a sense of belonging," said Louise Simons, a library technician.
Principal Charles Young, who started there this year, commended his staff for working through a tough time and making students feel comfortable.
"It's hard, no doubt," Young said. Student pen-pal relationships have developed with other schools, and some of those schools have brought their students to Almond Avenue to help the adjustment. "We did not want it to end with everyone feeling awful and disgruntled," he said.
These were the district's two "open enrollment" schools, where students attended based on parents' requests. The students' neighborhood schools were expected to take in most of the students.
In Antioch, Bidwell was chosen because boundary changes, to accommodate the new Carmen Dragon Elementary School set to open in the fall, would cause Bidwell's enrollment to drop from 659 to 250 students. Those remaining Bidwell students will be dispersed among four elementary schools for the 2004-05 school year. If demographics in Bidwell's attendance area change over time to include more elementary-age children, Superintendent Dennis Goettsch said the school could be reopened.
"It's kind of a two-edged sword; I have so many strong and wonderful memories and ties to Bidwell that to think of it closing is very sad," said DiDi DelChiaro, Bidwell's principal. She will become the principal at Carmen Dragon next year.
"At the same time, many of my students here currently are going to Carmen Dragon, and my teachers have also asked for transfers, and in that sense it's exciting to build a new community literally from the ground up," DelChiaro said.
In East Oakland, St. Paschal Baylon School and Saints Cyril-Louis Bertrand Academy will close, while in the north part of the city, St. Augustine will shut its doors.
The Catholic Diocese of Oakland, which includes all of Alameda and Contra Costa counties, is closing the campuses due to diminishing enrollment, according to Millie Burns, director of planning and program development for the church district. This year, St. Augustine had only 74 students, while St. Paschal Baylon School had 122 students. Saints Cyril-Louis Bertrand Academy was the largest of the closed schools, with 174 students.
The diocese is trying to find new schools for 312 of those students; the rest are eighth graders and would be moving to high school anyway.
"We've been pleasantly surprised by the number of families that want to keep their children in the diocese's schools," Burns said. She added that the diocese has agreed to pick up the difference in tuition if a family wants to send their child to another school in the diocese's district. The diocese is also helping the families pay for new school uniforms if they move within Oakland diocesan schools.
The Livermore district had surveyed local private schools, which said they would have about 100 spaces open next fall.
Joe Krutulis, director at Quarry Lane School in Dublin, said his school is expecting a slight increase in enrollment from the Livermore closings, but most parents seek to keep their kids closer to home.
"If a school closed in Dublin or Pleasanton, we'd certainly get more people wanting to send their kids here," Krutulis said. "Most people want to stay in their own area.
But a proposed charter school, if it's approved, may take a significant number of the displaced students. Organizers of the Livermore Valley Charter School, whose effort was sparked by the schools closing, hope to open in the fall. The Livermore school board has denied approving their plans, but the issue has been appealed to the Alameda County Office of Education.
For the most part, students at these schools, and at Bidwell, will be absorbed into other district schools.
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