Updated 9:10 a.m. to reflect the fact that the committee did not vote on whether or not to change the consultant's recommendation. It voted only on whether to add schools to the list.
, and Trabuco Elementary remain the top choices of schools that could be closed this year due to budget cuts and declining enrollment following a review by a Saddleback Valley Unified School District committee Monday.
After a meeting that drew a packed house of concerned parents wearing Aliso and Linda Vista school T-shirts, the district’s Facilities Advisory Committee voted against adding to the recommendation offered by Irvine-based consulting firm DecisionInsite to close the three schools. The committee provided input but did not vote on whether or not to affirm the recommendation, which will now move ahead to a separate committee.
The district is considering school closures as it faces the highest rate of declining enrollment in the county, which costs it $3.8 million a year, officials say. SVUSD is looking at a deficit of $9 million in the coming budget year, and district staffers say closing an elementary school saves an average of $500,000 a year.
“This doesn’t feel good to anyone,” said Jeff Starr, the district's director of business services. “But we are looking at a way to become fiscally responsible as a district. We are losing 600 to 700 students every year. That’s an elementary school. Do we just operate all our schools at half capacity? That doesn’t make sense either.”
In making its recommendation, DecisionInsite analyzed the schools' current and anticipated enrollment numbers, the condition of the campuses' facilities, the school sites' property values, the boundaries of their attendance areas, transportation issues and the ability of nearby schools to absorb students displaced by a closure.
“I was disappointed,” said Bart van Aardenne, an Aliso Elementary parent. He said the district should consider factors such as a school’s academic achievements and programs when deciding which campuses to shut down.
Aliso Elementary’s API test scores rose 45 points last year, and its iEngage program——has drawn widespread attention and a recent visit from state superintendent of education Tom Torlakson.
“The only thing that seems to be considered here is demographics," Van Aardenne said. "It’s about the red dots on the map, which begs the question, ‘What is the mission of the school district?’ Why is no consideration given for test scores, socioeconomics and a school’s strong programs?"
Parents whose children attend Linda Vista in Mission Viejo expressed similar disappointment.
“I feel like the decision has already been made,” said Kaleigh Burn, an FAC member whose daughter is a third-grader at Linda Vista Elementary. “I think they’re just going through the motions to do what they ultimately want to do.”
Burn said she and other parents are concerned that if Linda Vista closes, it will jeopardize the district’s ability to collect all of an almost $3-million grant from the Jacob K. Javits Gifted and Talented Students Education Program. The grant was awarded in 2009 to Linda Vista, and elementaries, allowing those campuses to offer free summer school, after-school classes and other activities.
“The district has compelling reasons [to close Linda Vista] on paper,” said Carla Taylor, a Linda Vista parent. “But we know our school. We know the value.”
Starr said that Trabuco Elementary, with just 53 students and three teachers, is problematic because students learn in classrooms catering to multiple grade levels at once and may not be getting the same opportunities as other students. He said the district would like to protect Trabuco’s field study program, possibly by opening it up to other school districts.
The committee’s recommendations will now be forwarded to the district’s 7/11 Committee (so named because of legislation requiring it to have at least seven but no more than 11 members), which will determine whether Aliso, Linda Vista, and Trabuco Elementary schools, or any other district properties, should be identified as surplus properties that could eventually be closed, leased or sold.
The 7/11 Committee will meet in April, though a date has not yet been set, said district spokeswoman Tammy Blakely.
Any decision to close a school is ultimately up to the elected school board.
The district has set up a page on its website for information about the school closure process, where parents can submit questions. It can be found online here.