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Updated: Aliso, Linda Vista and Trabuco Elementary Schools Remain Top Choices for Closure After District Committee Meeting

Scores of concerned parents turn out to oppose the recommendation, which comes as the district faces the highest rate of declining enrollment in the county. "I feel like the decision has already been made," says one parent.

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.

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Lake Forest Resident March 30, 2011 at 03:50 AM
I'm sorry but where have all of you concerned parents been for the last year? The Budget passed for 2010-2011 referenced that 2 elementary schools would need to be closed at the end of the school year. If you had really wanted a say in what was going to happen, why haven't you been asking follow-up questions or asking for further information? The last time that schools were potentially going to be closed, these same 3 schools were on the list. This should not be a shock for anyone. And as a parent in the district, I am sorry but it is not worth the money to keep such small schools open. Our resources are stretched so thin so to have a school with less than 400 students across 7 grades is very much a waste of money.
lee anne van Aardenne March 30, 2011 at 04:41 AM
As a parent, i feel that a neighborhood school like Aliso with excellent teachers and a sense of community will provide the best possible education for my child.While i understand fiscal concerns it seems to me that we have forgotten that the purpose of our schools is to EDUCATE our children. Aliso has never been considered for closure in the past and taking into account we were notified of the proposal just last week we have been rather vocal on the subject. As a parent in SVUSD you should be concerned that your school will be next or at the very least you will be adversely effected by current school closures which are bound to create overcrowding and scarcity of resources. In closing , while you may view my daughter"s school as a waste of money i consider them my family.
Rob Lange March 30, 2011 at 04:52 PM
To Lake Forest Resident, Sadly you are missing the point. If schools need to be closed, and this is a big "if" because I'd venture to say there are a lot of other areas that money is being wasted and could be used to provide adequate facilities and programs for our kids, then the process for closing them should be based on performance rather than boundries. Wouldn't you be willing to transport your child a little further to school knowing that your effort provided them a better education? Why then would we move kids from progressive learning environments to stagnant ones when the move could be in the other directiion and effectively solve the budget issue while providing kids the best learning opportunity. If the reasoning to close a particular school was that it is not an effective program then there is little argument. Not the case at Aliso...but is elsewhere
Suzanne April 01, 2011 at 05:10 AM
Linda Vista has over 500 students.
Suzanne April 01, 2011 at 05:17 AM
Linda Vista has increased testing scores and enrolment has gone up since we first began sending our oldest daughter there five years ago. The campus has completed the measure B improvements, we have a thriving PTA and outstanding teachers. Closing Linda Vista will leave a huge hole in the neighbourhood that was intentionally planned with an elementary, jr.high and high school within walking distance of each other. It seems ridiculous to close down a thriving school.

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