The most concerning aspect of this for me is that the school district is just opening a new elementary school, Korematsu. Korematsu had not even opened yet, when in June, a special task force recommended the closure of Valley Oak due to declining enrollment.
Right there, a red flag goes up for me. Because now you are opening a new school in the wealthy Mace Ranch neighborhood, while you are closing an old school in the part of Davis that is the most racially diverse and economically disadvantaged. Some have suggested that Valley Oak was the target because its population is the least organized and politically powerless. Let us examine that question.
The June 27, 2006 Davis Enterprise cites task force member Jan Bridge, a former school board trustee, who suggests that given declining enrollment there are inherent problems with opening the new Korematsu Elementary campus in Mace Ranch, while operating the eight existing elementary schools. So if that’s the case, why are you opening a new school?
School Board Member Gina Daleiden: “The minute Korematsu opens, it starts to bleed students from Valley Oak. That’s just a fact.” Korematsu is in the newer, more affluent Mace Ranch area, while Valley Oak is in Old East Davis, surrounded by smaller homes and several apartment complexes. “I don’t want to relegate our students with the fewest resources to a site with the fewest resources.”
On the other hand, Daleiden ignores the drawbacks of closing the school. The students once the school is closed would be dispersed into three neighboring schools. This would put a large hardship on those families. Presently, with the neighborhood school open, the kids are able to walk or bicycle to school with ease. Many of these families do not have access to reliable transportation which put new burdens on the students and their parents.
Moreover, Valley Oak has been a major success story, with a very diverse student population that outperforms many of the neighboring schools that the students would be sent to.
Unfortunately, this appears to be a case where the wealthy parents and families in Mace Ranch, where Korematsu lies are getting a new school at the expense of the poorer students who go to Valley Oak.
I want to make this clear–I am not advocating the closing of Korematsu. I agree with those who suggest it is a bad idea to pit school against school. I urge the school district to come up with creative solutions in order to keep both schools open.
However, I also agree with Mr. Tezcan who wrote a letter to the editor last night pointing out in many ways this is as much about socio-economic issues and race relations as it is a debate about facilities. Unfortunately, I am forced to agree. Politics is about the distribution of scarce resources by government. Who wins in the political battle? Generally, those who have the most resource, influence, and are best organized. Unfortunately that appears to be Korematsu over Valley Oak.
The most perplexing part of this for me is the reason cited for why Valley Oak. Task force member Bridge, again in the June Davis Enterprise article, suggests that there are 420 kids on the school site. So what is the problem? There are 175 students who are in the GATE program at Valley Oak, many of those students come from outside of the school’s attendance area. Reassigning the GATE program to another school and opening Korematsu would drop that figure to 225 according to task force chair Kirk Trost.
So let me get this straight, they are proposing closing a school that has a program that is so successful that kids from other parts of town attend?
Mr. Tezcan in a letter to me suggested that this might be a good issue for the Davis Human Relations Commission. I agree, too bad we do not have one anymore that can actually do something. I do not wish to continue beating a dead horse, (okay, yes I do), but already there are two issues that the Human Relations Commission should be dealing with, and both involve the school district.
A long time ago, in another town, I was heavily involved in school board issues. The commitment of parents to their neighborhood schools is tremendous. The advantages of smaller neighborhood schools over larger schools are many. I understand declining registration numbers. And I understand the need to best utilize our facilities in such a way that maximize our resources to create a strong learning environment. But part of doing that is giving people good safe neighborhood schools where their children can attend.
While closing down a school may (and I stress may) serve the needs of the school district, it certainly does not serve the needs of the students at Valley Oak Elementary School, students who appear to need as much help as possible in order to get a good and strong foundation for their future. Why would a school district pick on the weakest and most vulnerable segment of our population? That is beyond me.
—Doug Paul Davis reporting