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District eyes closures

Saugus Union may be forced to close elementary schools due to continued budget cuts

Posted: December 2, 2009 10:02 p.m.
Updated: December 3, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Saugus Union School District might close some of its elementary schools and delay plans for a permanent campus for Bouquet Canyon Elementary School, officials said Wednesday.

An $8.2 million budget cut — on the heels of another $11 million in cuts — has made the drastic measures a possibility.

“We’re angry. We’re frustrated,” school board president Judy Umeck said. “We’ve done everything right and we truly feel like we’re being punished.”

The 15-elementary-school district serves about 10,300 students. Each school costs roughly $700,000 a year to run.

Initial discussions at a Tuesday study session indicated that one or two schools could be closed, but on Wednesday, Superintendent Judy Fish said the district is not considering a specific number.

The closures will most likely be a mix of permanent and temporary, Umeck said.

“This is our problem and we want to take care of it with our community,” Umeck said.

The possibilities have been met with concern from teachers, parents and faculty.

“I think what is really unfortunate is that we are put into this situation at all,” said Joan Oxman, president of the Saugus Teachers Association.

For Oxman, it relates to the continued lack of state funding to education.

“Our major concern is that there’s not enough money to operate our schools,” she said. “It really is a terrible problem out here and I don’t think the community realizes it.”

The district is exploring the school-closure option through a series of public study sessions and meetings with parent and faculty organizations, Superintendent Judy Fish said. If a school is closed, students, and as many teachers and staff, would transfer to another Saugus Union school.

The next study session will take place in January. Any decision to close schools or shift attendance boundaries would be made in early February, Fish said.

“The board and I are trying to be as transparent as possible so the community understands what the issues are and feel that they have an opportunity to give us feedback as we make these difficult decisions,” Fish said.

Opening West Creek
Part of the decision faced by the district involves opening West Creek Elementary School, the newly constructed school meant to serve the West Creek and West Hills communities.

Because district officials have put off opening that school due to low enrollment, students in the West Creek and West Hills communities now attend Tesoro del Valle Elementary School.

Previous estimates showed that West Creek Elementary would have about 50 students.

The problem has been compounded by a district-wide drop in the number of students. The district’s enrollment has decreased by 700 in recent years — about equal to an entire school population.

The drop comes as families are sending their children to local private and charter schools instead of public schools. Low enrollment is also attributed to the sluggish economy and slow housing market.

While there is not a sufficient number of students to open West Creek, the district intends to open enrollment to all Saugus Union families, Fish said.

“We really feel that this is a school that has state-of-the-art facilities, technology and we believe that it’s important that it not stay closed,” Fish said.

The district is also exploring new opportunities for the school’s curriculum by including “innovative” academic programs, Fish said.

Building the new Bouquet
Another plan put on hold involves building a permanent Bouquet Canyon Elementary School campus. District officials have spent more than a decade planning for a campus that would convert all of the school’s portable classrooms and buildings into permanent structures, Fish said.

“That school was never intended to be there as long it’s been there,” Fish said.

But those plans have been put on hold as the district struggles to get approvals for construction of a new school and as a lack of state money further complicates plans.

“It’s being put on hold until we know there is money in the state construction program,” Fish said.

The decision comes as Saugus Union has already seen $11 million in cuts.

“Right now, it’s not fiscally responsible to still be spending money on a site that we can’t get the appropriate approvals for,” Umeck said.

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