Monday, January 01, 2007

Myopic Mom's Muddled Mission

OK, that was bad.

Here's some background. The San Juan Unified School District, a K-12 district in the northern and eastern suburbs of Sacramento, has been losing students for years now. It had a high of 52,000 students a few years ago and has lost 4,000 students in the last 4 years. Projections show an even lower total enrollment before the curve flattens out. And let's not forget, lower enrollment means less money for the district.

How has San Juan decided to cut back on costs? In part by closing/consolidating schools. Districts of similar size in California have several fewer elementary schools than San Juan, so the district has been closing some of them down. These closed schools have been leased to charter schools, have replaced office space the district has leased elsewhere--and the plan is to sell some of them outright.

It's a logical, economical solution to a growing problem. The San Juan district is in an "old" area--there's no more room for new housing. And the housing that is in the district is pretty expensive, encompassing several nice areas. In other words, there are no new children coming into the district for the forseeable future, and hence no new money, and the district needs to cut costs.

Of course the parents of students displaced by school closures aren't all that happy about them, but most understand the necessity. Notice I said most. One woman wants to recall three school board trustees and the superintendent just because her kids' school was closed. Perhaps not so coincidentally, she recently lost her run for the school board.

I've mentioned before how this online newspaper allows comments on its articles. The first one (there are only two so far) is so exceptional that I'll reprint it here in full:

Maybe Ms. Morello should hang out with Mr. Newdow (the Sacramento atheist who sued to stop the Pledge of Allegiance in schools and wants "In God We Trust" removed from US money--Darren).

They can exchange pointers on how to disguise their own personal agendas as "doing it for the sake of their kids". Maybe between the two of them they'll figure out a way to make it less transparent.

Seriously, maybe there's a reason she didn't get elected to the school board since she seems to have no understanding of the financial aspect of running a school district. I'd be willing to bet that she would find a reason to do this regardless of what course of action was taken by the district. Way to set an example for your kids on how to lose graciously.

Lastly, I know parents get pretty myopic when it comes to their own children but while your world may revolve around them, the rest of the world does not. The district has thousands of kids to handle, each of them having parents who believe THEIR kids are the center of the universe, and they have to balance out what is best for them as a collective. Maybe Ms. Morello's inability to understand this is the reason she lost.

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KimJ said...

Closing schools always seems to be an emotional issue. My hometown decided they needed to close one of their five elementary schools due to declining enrollment, but they couldn't decide which one -- so they closed TWO, one on each side of town, just to be fair. (I've never understood how that reasoning made any sense to anybody.) Five years later the remaining three schools were so crowded that they had to move fifth grade to the middle school for twenty more years until they could add enough additions to the elementary schools to house all of the K-5 students again.

Darren said...

I guess there wasn't one in the middle of town? :-)

Anonymous said...

That district's area also has a lot of students in private and charter schools. Closing schools often has the effect of further lowering district enrollment because many parents will move or send their kid to private/charter school rather than whatever public school their kid is reassigned to. This is especially true in the wealthier areas that are experiencing these declines.

No the world does not revolve around each child, but the parents can and should remove their child(and their child's funding) if they do not believe the district is meeting their child's needs. On page 9 of the link below a group of parents in another district opened a charter school in response to a school closure which further exacarbated that district's enrollment decline. Good for the parents.

San Juan Unified improved its parent communications after discovering that a high proportion of the area's children were in private school. And being from that area, the district is not that great except for Mira Loma's IB programs. Its demographics are good so its overall test scores are goood, but a lot of its schools have similar schools ranks in the first and second decile. And guess what? They started sending parent satisfaction surveys in an attempt to keep parents satisfied so that they'd keep their kids in the district.