By Bill Shilstone
More than 1,900 Redwood City Elementary School District students would move to new schools next year under final reorganization proposals to be considered for final action by district trustees Wednesday Nov. 28 at Sequoia High School’s Carrington Hall. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.
Supt. John Baker’s final recommendations follow a board directive given at a five-hour public hearing Nov. 14 that Fair Oaks and Taft, neighboring schools in the low-income North Fair Oaks community, not both be closed. Fair Oaks students would move to Taft under Baker’s proposals.
The final plan calls for the closing of four campuses: Fair Oaks (current enrollment 221), Hawes (301), Orion (270) and Adelante (464). Orion’s parent participation program would move to the John Gill campus and Adelante’s Spanish Immersion program would move to Selby Lane. Selby Lane’s Spanish Immersion program would merge with Adelante’s; the other 460 Selby Lane students would move. At John Gill, 200 students would have a choice of enrolling in the Orion program or moving to another school.
The district faces a $10 million budget shortfall in the next three years because of steeply declining enrollment caused by families moving away or choosing charter or private schools. Funding is pegged in part on student count, which in Redwood City is 7,600, about half the combined capacity of the 16 schools. Baker’s proposals are designed to deal with the cost inefficiency of near-empty campuses and to cut just over $4 million for the 2018-19 school year.
In order to make that cut without the closing of Taft, Baker added two new proposals: staffing reductions of $700,000 instead of the $430,000 originally proposed, and to seek outside funding for the summer school program ($674,000).
Baker acknowledges in his memorandum accompanying his recommendations to the board that the displacement of students causes difficulties and disappointment, and outlines measures designed to soften the blow.
Displaced students from Fair Oaks, Hawes, John Gill and Selby Lane will be given first priority in the district’s Schools of Choice lottery and be able to attend any school where there is space and staffing available. The district will provide counseling and emotional support to students and teachers who are moving. The district will work with community partners to provide transportation to the affected students.
Whether those measures will be effective may be tested Tuesday morning by a group of parents and community members from the affected schools who have organized a walk from the downtown library to district headquarters on Bradford Street to demonstrate their feeling that the burden of the reorganization is falling more heavily on the low-income community.
At the Nov. 14 public hearing, Adelante parent Vanja Douglas summed up the argument: “… schools with the largest percentage of students receiving free and reduced-price meals and the largest percentage of English language learners are being asked to bear the burden of the upcoming changes … while the schools with the most resources are left small, unchanged, and comfortable.”
The public gets a final chance for input before the final vote on Wednesday.