Parents Unite to Keep Open Elementary Campuses : Education: They cite unique programs offered at Simi, Mountain View and Sycamore. District says one must close due to low enrollment.


For 12 years, John Baxter has walked through the adobe hallways of tiny Simi Elementary School where his three sons have spent their childhood. Eager to have a hand in their education, he has volunteered at countless school events and has been an active PTA father.

Now, he is fighting just to keep the school open.

Three central Simi Valley elementary schools--Simi, Mountain View and Sycamore--have been targeted for possible closure because of low enrollment. To cut costs, officials say one of the schools should be shut down and its students transferred elsewhere.

“This has been grueling,” Baxter said. “To me, it is like breaking up a family.”

Since the school board’s decision last month, Baxter, school officials and other parents have labored to produce reports detailing why their schools should be spared.


They cite unique special education programs, safety concerns for children crossing busy thoroughfares, even historic significance to defend the schools in reports that will be presented to the board Tuesday.

“Day and night, we have all been working really hard,” Mountain View Principal Karyn Cryster said. “We are not giving up.”

Closing an elementary school would save about $200,000 annually in salaries and facility costs, district officials said. In addition, the Simi Valley Unified School District could make more than $50,000 a year by leasing the campus--funds that would help ease a projected $3-million deficit.

Mountain View, Sycamore and Simi were identified for possible closure because they lie in low-growth areas where enrollment has declined in past years, school officials said.

While enrollment at some Simi Valley elementary schools has swollen, Sycamore has just 370 students, with room for 660; Simi only 300, with capacity for 660, and Mountain View has about 400 students at a campus built for 540.

To evaluate which school to close, committees composed of parents, teachers and administrators submitted reports to the district this week, detailing capacity, enrollment and facility use.


The committees’ reports also include information about unique school programs, and reasons why their campuses should not be closed.

“We really wanted an opportunity for schools and parents to put down in writing what is important,” Assistant Supt. Susan C. Parks said.

A district committee will review the reports to make a recommendation this month, and the school board will vote in April.

Hundreds of parents gathered in school cafeterias Tuesday night to hear presentations on the reports before they go to the school board next week.

“Obviously, they are not happy,” Cryster said of the parents at her school. “They are very upset by the whole thing. The board will probably get lots of letters.”

In the reports to the district, each school has detailed reasons why their campus should remain open.


Mountain View has a special program for children with severe emotional disabilities that would be difficult to move to another campus, and could traumatize the 36 children in that program, officials said.


Also, new housing developments could bring increased enrollment to the Mountain View campus, which stands at the southernmost end of the district’s corridor of low enrollment.

“We have three major developments going in around us right now,” Cryster said.

Sycamore has several unique educational offerings, such as a program for 40 students with severe handicaps--the only such program in the district--and is among the most progressive schools countywide experimenting with the inclusion of disabled children in mainstream classes.

“And then you have the loss of the school as a binding force in the neighborhood,” Principal Robert Chall said. “We are the park.”

In the center of Simi Valley, Sycamore students would have to cross busy city streets to attend another school, a safety risk that concerns parents, Chall said.

Crossing dangerous intersections also has parents worried at Simi Elementary. If the school is closed, children walking north to attend Sycamore would have to cross railroad tracks and Los Angeles Avenue, and children walking south to Mountain View would have to cross the Arroyo Simi.


“Our greatest concern is for our children’s safety,” Baxter said.


Simi should also be spared closure because of the school’s unique program for deaf and hard-of-hearing children, parents argued. Moving those students would upset an environment of acceptance between deaf and hearing students that has taken years to forge, parents and school officials said.

“For my children, it would be starting at ground zero, and I don’t think that is fair,” said parent Jeanne Olsen, who has two children in the deaf and hard-of-hearing program.

Simi’s historical significance should be taken into consideration as well, parents said. The school, which celebrates its 70th birthday this year, is the oldest in Simi Valley and a county historical monument.

Because it is the smallest of the three campuses and located between the other two schools, at least one school leader has suggested Simi should be the campus closed. Trustee Debbie Sandland offered that suggestion at the last board meeting.

But Simi parents are optimistic. “We realize that the board people are only human,” Baxter said. “This isn’t easy for anybody.”


Possible School Closures The Simi Valley School district is considering closing one of three elementary schools to cut costs and streamline facility use.