The complete modernization of the Emerson campus would cost between 17 million and 19 million dollars, according to architect Steve Newsom who spoke on Thursday. Unfortunately, the district lacks the money even for the highest of priorities.
The district decided that logistically they could not close Emerson because the other two junior highs were on the other side of time.
Despite this rumors that the school district intends to close Emerson Junior HIgh have persisted for the past two years.
A few weeks ago, at a school board meeting where the $5.6 million deficit was discussed, I asked the district point blank if they intended to close a close as a means to close the budget deficit.
Board President Tim Taylor responding to a question from myself said:
“No, we have not had any dialogue or any official consideration of school closures. It is certainly something that we as a community have lived through painfully, however, we are going through and have ahead of us a whole lot of pain still.”
Bruce Colby explained that while the district could save up to $300,000 to $400,000 from closing an elementary and $500,000 to $600,000 closing a junior high, however, the first thing the district needs is the capacity for the other elementary schools to absorb the additional students. When Valley Oak was closed that pushed the elementary schools to 90 plus percent capacity, so at this time the elementary schools are running at 90% capacity and therefore there is not really excessive capacity at the sites to absorb a school closure.
He also said when the district discussed we would have to spend a million dollars on portables to add capacity, and we don’t have the ability to add capacity to a site because we have no facility money either.
James Hammond suggested also that we think about the long term ramifications.
“There could be immediate savings that’s on an ongoing basis for what we perceive to be a three to five year problem. Culturally we could have decades of issues related to something so traumatic.”
He expressed concern that school closure discussions would once again pit one part of town against another. He did not see that as a helpful discussion at this time.
He told me privately, “the Superintendent is adamantly and unequivocally against closing a school.” The school board did not seem inclined to want to get into it either.
Other board members also told me privately they had no intention of closing a school in the foreseeable future.
As many who read this site regularly know, the district made the determination in late 2008 that the highest priority project was the high school track and stadium. This generated a large outcry from some in the community who believed that classrooms ought to be prioritized over a sports facility.
All things being equal I might be inclined to agree. However, the facts in this case bear strongly that the district needed to repair the track and football stadium as a huge safety issue first. Emerson it had become clear did not and does not represent a safety issue to students or district employees.
Unfortunately however, despite the district moving Emerson to the top of their list they do not have the funding at this time to do even the first phase of upgrades. Superintendent James Hammond acknowledged this on Thursday and said that it was not clear when funding might become available.
Moreover, at this point, Emerson’s upgrade is not the district’s top priority in terms of funding. Facilities come from a separate fund from the general fund that funds teachers and spending in the classroom, however, if the district were to put a funding measure on the ballot it would be a parcel tax not a facilities bond.
The district is trying to figure out whether to put a parcel tax measure on the ballot for November and what size to make it. Barring new funding and changes in the state budget outlook, the district is looking at over 100 layoff notices minimum for May 15 when such notices must be finalized. If anything the budget picture may well worsen in May when the Governor comes out with the May revise to the budget.
—David M. Greenwald reporting