Debate over closing Emerson Jr. High continues

Over
500 concerned parents, teachers and community members crowded into the
auditorium of Emerson Jr. High on Monday night to discuss closing the
school with members of the school board.

Davis Joint Unified School District is considering closing the West
Davis junior high school as part of an attempt to cut $4 million from
the district’s budget next year due to California’s large budget
deficit. The district would save $566,000 by closing Emerson Jr. High.
Emerson, which schools seventh through ninth graders, was chosen
because it is the only junior high school that has not undergone
renovation.

Over 500 concerned parents, teachers and community members crowded into the auditorium of Emerson Jr. High on Monday night to discuss closing the school with members of the school board.

Davis Joint Unified School District is considering closing the West Davis junior high school as part of an attempt to cut $4 million from the district’s budget next year due to California’s large budget deficit. The district would save $566,000 by closing Emerson Jr. High. Emerson, which schools seventh through ninth graders, was chosen because it is the only junior high school that has not undergone renovation.

If the budget situation doesn’t improve, my concern is that we may be back here next year, said superintendant James Hammond. That is why have to be very thoughtful with the decisions this year.

Two options were up for discussion Monday night. One option is to close Emerson, move its students to Holmes Jr. High and move students from Da Vinci High School to Valley Oak Elementary, which will be closing next year. The alternative is to add Da Vinci High School to Emerson Jr. High. Both involve reconfiguring the district so ninth graders, who currently attend junior high, would be moved to high school.

If the option to close Emerson is selected, half the students from Holmes Jr. High would be moved to Harper Jr. High to make room for all of the Emerson students. Portable classrooms at both locations would need to be brought in, Hammond said.

Parents are not pleased with any of the options and are encouraging the school board not to decide anything this year because there is not enough time between now and the June 30 budget deadline to make such an important decision, said Frances McChesney, co-president of the Emerson Parent Teacher Association.

Students and parents are concerned that closing the only junior high school in West Davis would either force students to bike the four miles to Holmes Jr. High or require parents to drive them, which would increase the city’s carbon footprint and make some parents late for work. It would also decrease property values in West Davis, McChesney said.

We think [the district] should keep the current configuration of the three schools and count on the [state] legislature to not require such big cuts, McChesney said.

Governor Schwarzeneggerreleased his budget proposal in January, which predicts a $14.5 billion shortfall for the next fiscal year and declared California to be in a fiscal emergency. California’s legislative analyst later recommended cutting $400 million from the state’s education budget. The official revised budget is scheduled for release sometime in May.

There probably isn’t a school district in the state that doesn’t have fiscal challenges because of the governor’s budget proposal, said Linda Legnitto, associate superintendent with the Yolo County Office of Education. School districts must take the January budget proposal as fact until there is something official which is different.

The district faces a particularly large amount of necessary reductions resulting from a combination of budget problems and five years of declining enrollment. A school receives money from the state based on the number of students attending it. Enrollment numbers are declining in Davis in part due to increased attendance of charter and private schools, she said.

The district notified 92 credentialed staff members Mar. 15 of potential increased layoffs next year, something that would result in cutbacks to music, art, foreign language and library programs. Further staff cuts are among the options being considered but would need to come from non-credentialed support staff such as custodians and secretaries because of a requirement that credentialed employees be notified of possible layoffs by Mar. 15.

Members of the state legislature disagree on how to solve the budget crisis. Many Republicans may advocate cuts in spending, while many Democrats may favor a combination of increasing tax revenue as well as budget cuts.

This stalemate poses a problem for school districts trying to lay out their budget for next year. The law requires they have a budget by June 30, but that deadline is rarely met, Legnitto said.

The [finished] budget usually comes out in July or August, and this is a particularly difficult year, so it will take longer, she said. School districts have to start the year not knowing what the budget will be. They have to make cuts before.

Should the district not be able to meet the budget reduction requirements, the county is required to intervene.

It’s always difficult to close a school because whoever attends it is attached to it, Legnitto said. But it’s a strategy to avoid cutting programs, because those students can be served at another school.

The school board could issue a decision as early as its meeting tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. at the Community Chambers.

 

ALYSOUN BONDE can be reached at city@californiaaggie.com.