500 attend latest forum on proposed school cuts

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Five hundred Redwood City School District parents and staff filled the Gary Beban Gymnasium at Kennedy Middle School on Thursday night to hear a whittled-down list of proposals for reorganizing the shrinking district and to plead for the retention of their schools.

Supt. John Baker said his preliminary recommendation to the board of trustees calls for the closing of four schools next year. Adelante and its bilingual Spanish/English program would merge with Selby Lane; Orion, a parent participation magnet school, would move to John Gill; Hawes students would go to Clifford, Gill or Roosevelt; North Star Academy, a magnet school for accelerated learning, would move to Taft. Closing the four saves almost $3 million, he said.

By Dec. 15, the district needs to come up with a plan to show the San Mateo County Office of Education where some $6 million in cuts will be made over the next two years.

The elementary district has lost 1,500 students over the past six years to charter schools, families being priced out of the Bay Area and other factors. State funding is, in part, tied to head count and the Redwood City district is further handicapped compared to neighboring districts by the way property taxes are allocated.

Baker said he will meet again Monday with the advisory council that came up with 25 reorganization proposals and post his semi-final recommendations on the district web site next Friday, Nov. 9.  The Nov. 14 regular board meeting, to be held at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City at 7 p.m., will be a public hearing and board discussion of the recommendations. Baker then will make a final recommendation for board action at their Nov. 28 meeting, to be held at Sequoia High School’s Carrington Hall.

The board decided to open Thursday’s the forum to audience questions after feedback at two previous meetings was limited to sticky note comments pasted on posters describing each of the original 25 proposals.

A parade of students, parents and staff members chiefly from Adelante, Selby Lane, North Star and Hawes, filed to the microphone to address the board after Baker explained his latest thinking. The four-hour meeting was orderly but at times passionate, with some parents and students in tears. A girl of about 6 told the board, “I like my school Selby Lane. And I like my teacher. That’s all I want to say.”

Most of the Selby Lane concerns were about losing their community and the middle school they have worked so hard to build. The school would become K-5 under the preliminary plan.

An Adelante contingent spoke against leaving a popular district school of choice and the successful and tight-knit community they see.

North Star parents objected to losing their centrally located school, saying the trek to the outskirts of the city would be a hardship.

One of Baker’s requirements, he said, is that solutions should promote racially and socioeconomically balanced schools and not further segregate students. The 16-school district has a wide east side-west side disparity in ethnic population, with most minority students (78 percent of district enrollment) living east of El Camino Real. The district’s magnet schools draw many minority students to west side campuses.

Other factors Baker considered in his proposals: save money or generate new revenue; enable progress toward innovation and excellence; not cause loss of students.

Baker presented district enrollment figures that show most schools far below capacity: Taft capacity 1,080, enrollment 331; Clifford 1,110 vs. 558. Schools under 400 enrollment, considered minimum, are Taft, Fair Oaks, Henry Ford, John Gill, Hawes and Orion.

He said that he will recommend moving district headquarters to McKinley Institute of Technology in 2020 and renting the current Bradford Street building.

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