The Huntington Beach City School District board approved a study Tuesday that could lead to the sale of Joseph R. Perry Elementary School, despite outcry from parents and staff members.
Trustees decided unanimously to move forward with Phase 1 of the feasibility study, which had been tabled at the October board meeting. Phase 1, at a cost of about $44,000, is meant to determine the price tag for the Perry land at 19231 Harding Lane and could lead to a tentative board decision on whether to dispose of the site, according to the district’s contract with BCA Architects.
Perry was selected for the study because it is the least populated school in the district, officials said.
But some parents claimed the district is to blame for that.
“The boundaries around Perry are very small — the smallest in our district. The tract just south of Perry is drawn so that children will attend [John R. Peterson Elementary],” said Kurt Chrestensen, a Perry parent.
Chrestensen said he believes the district’s policy of open enrollment, which allows parents to send their children to a school other than the one assigned based on their address, is “unequivocally damaging to Perry.”
“You have some of the wealthiest and active parents of our neighborhood sending their kids, volunteering their time and donating money to some of the wealthiest schools in the district,” he said.
Perry has by far the highest percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students in the district at 49%, according to its state-required 2016-17 School Accountability Report Card.
Ethel Dwyer Middle School is second with 22.9%, while several schools in the district have less than 10%, according to the report.
District spokeswoman Cynthia Guerrero said its philosophy on open enrollment “has been to allow parental choice” and that it would not be able to discontinue the option for only one school unless it had met its student capacity.
Parents and teachers asserted the district’s numbers on Perry’s enrollment are false, claiming it is closer to 450 than 250, as the board has cited.
Guerrero said the discrepancy is due to various preschool programs at Perry that were meant to prompt families to enroll at the school. But, she said, enrollment trends show families leave before first grade.
“You then start to see each grade-level enrollment declining to 35 to 50 students per grade level, or an average of two classes per grade level,” Guerrero said.
Parents urged the board to preserve Perry, commending it as a neighborhood school with a strong sense of community.
“We are committed to Perry,” said Sharon Peterson, a longtime Huntington Beach resident. “It’s my opinion that if you remove that school, you’ll be ripping out the heart of that community.”
Supt. Gregg Haulk tried to reassure everyone at the meeting that the district is “very, very far from closing that school,” adding that the feasibility study alone will take months.
“The reality is that as a district we have some financial challenges in the next five years. … Closing a school is something that we have to seriously consider,” Haulk said. “Does this mean that Perry is going to close? I don’t know. Does it mean that we’re only considering Perry? Absolutely not.”
The board last month approved entering the second phase of the process to explore selling the Isaac L. Sowers and former Ernest H. Gisler middle school sites.
Haulk said at the time that the district needs to study the idea of replacing Sowers because it sits in a liquefaction zone, in which saturated soil could lose strength during an earthquake. He said fixing the soil would require a $20-million drilling project, so the board began discussing other options, including tearing down and rebuilding either the Sowers or Gisler buildings.