School Closures a Sore Subject in Pasadena
It was the last song of the last winter program that Pasadena’s Allendale Elementary School might ever have, and the mood was somber.
The night before the show, Pasadena Unified School District officials voted to close Allendale indefinitely.
Come fall, the 55-year-old elementary school will be shuttered. And so will Noyes. And Linda Vista. And Edison.
The Pasadena school board voted last week to close the four elementary schools because of declining enrollment. The board has been struggling with about a $6-million gap in its $114-million annual budget. Closing the schools will save about $1.2 million.
Parents blame poor planning by the school board. Board members blame declining enrollment. Families who have left the district blame Pasadena’s rising housing prices. And new neighborhood homeowners who opt for private schools blame an inadequate public school district, officials said.
Regardless of where the blame lies, the news hit hard.
“One [closure] seems extreme. Four seems like poor planning,” said Allendale parent Scott Moses. “I wish the parents had a voice, because I know I’m angry.”
Board members said they knew their decision to shut the schools would be unpopular, but that it was necessary if the district wanted to stay financially afloat.
“There’s not a single board member who wants to close a school,” board member William Bibbiani told an auditorium of disheartened teachers, parents and children.
“Half the school districts in the state have declining enrollments,” said school board President Ed Honowitz. “You can’t really shed the cost fast enough to address that issue.”
The district already has cut such areas as transportation and security; buses are now primarily available only to special-needs students, and security forces have been reduced.
“You have to balance the needs of the entire school district,” Honowitz said. “There’s 21,000 kids who still need an education.”
With fewer school sites to maintain, the district will pay for fewer principals, office managers, custodians and other employees. If, and how, school employees, services and equipment will follow the students to their new schools is yet to be determined.
District officials have said they hope to save money in the future through attrition and even increase revenue by leasing the four closed schools, though board member Esteban Lizardo assured the public at a recent meeting that “there is no backdoor motive to sell any of our property.”
The schools were selected for closure based on 16 criteria, including enrollment, proximity to neighboring schools and student density within the school’s neighborhood.
Allendale students will be dispersed among Hamilton, McKinley and San Rafael elementary schools. Noyes students will go to Burbank Elementary. Linda Vista students will attend San Rafael. Edison students will be divided among four campuses: Loma Alta, Franklin, Jackson and Altadena elementary schools.
“We’re projecting an estimated enrollment decline of 700 kids for the next school year,” Honowitz said, “and if we’re wrong, we’ll have to make additional cuts.”
Elizabeth Francis, a Pasadena grandmother, sternly shook an index finger at the board members at their meeting, scolding them for failing the students at the closed campuses.
“You’re not doing anything for our children,” she said.
When 6-year-old Evan Gray found out last week that the district was going to close Noyes, his face turned red, he clutched the leg of his desk and he wailed, begging somebody to try to change the minds of school board members, his teachers said.
Meanwhile, parents and teachers spent the last two weeks racing to save their schools before winter break.
The board sought to make its decision before the January deadline for open enrollment, when parents declare their children’s schools of choice for the following year.
Some of Edison’s teachers said they wished that their community had been more vocal. It appeared the petition signatures they were collecting were not loud enough.
The board also voted to discontinue Edison’s Healthy Start program, which has fed and housed the families of its homeless students, rallied to help a student’s dying father pay for funeral expenses and helped deal with problems at home that could lead to low achievement. The district is working with state officials to find a new home for the program.
Allendale’s faculty -- unlike Edison’s -- was unaware that it was slated for the chopping block, said Principal Kristin McGregor.
By the time last week’s board meeting rolled around, Allendale’s efforts were to no avail. More than a dozen parents, students and teachers cried and comforted each other after the vote. They vowed to prove that the district was closing a great school.
At the final winter performance, sixth-grade teacher David Morgan thumbed his acoustic guitar as his students sang “Silent Night.” The mood was downcast; the parents in the audience sang softly while the children cooed.
As the children returned in single file to their classrooms, McGregor patted their backs and told them they had done a good job.
“It hurts, absolutely,” she said. “They have to close schools to be more fiscally sound ... but in the long term it will be worth it.”
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