By Bill Shilstone
Moving to “right-size” the Redwood City School District in the face of declining enrollment, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to close four schools next year to help close a $4 million budget deficit for 2019-20.
The action came after a final outpouring of emotion, some of it from trustees, at a four-hour meeting at Sequoia High School attended by about 600 members of the school community.
Supt. John Baker said he and his administrative team on Monday will begin the transition for the 1,900 students who will have to change schools.
Choking back tears, Trustee Dennis McBride called on the families of 1,100 students who have fled to charter schools to return to the district. Each child brings about $10,000 to the district under the state funding formula.
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 will move to the John Gill campus and Adelante’s Spanish Immersion program will move to Selby Lane. Selby Lane’s Spanish Immersion program will merge with Adelante’s; the other 460 Selby Lane students will move. At John Gill, 200 students will have a choice of enrolling in the Orion program or moving to another school.
Displaced students from Fair Oaks, Hawes, John Gill and Selby Lane will be given priority to choose and attend any school. Baker said groups of teachers or students who want to move as a group will be accommodated, in consultation with the district teachers’ union.
“We’re going to come to the schools and ask each parent where they want to go,” Baker said. The district also will provide counseling and emotional support to students and teachers who are moving and will work with community partners to provide transportation to the affected students.
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. Current district enrollment is 7,600, about half the combined capacity of the 16 schools.
The board’s actions 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 by the closings — Adelante ($909,000), Fair Oaks ($568,000), Hawes ($561,000) and Orion ($723,000); staff reductions of $700,000; and obtaining outside funding for summer school $673,757. By Dec. 15, the district must present the pared-down budget for certification by the San Mateo County Office of Education, which monitors school district solvency.
Speakers from Fair Oaks, Hawes and Selby Lane asked the board to delay the decision and find an alternative to closing schools. They argued that the burden of the closings falls most heavily on schools with high percentages of low-income students.
Baker presented new school-by-school ethnic balance and socio-economic figures that he said show a reasonable mix in a district with about 80 percent non-white students. They will be posted on the district website.
Hawes parents called for the board to close Clifford instead, arguing that its families have the resources to deal with moving to a new school whereas Hawes families do not. At Clifford, 36 percent of the students qualify for free and reduced-price meals; at Hawes, the percentage is 65. “A lot of us are single Latino mothers struggling to make ends meet,” said one Selby Lane parent.
Several parents said the district will lose more money than it saves because students will leave the district rather than accept the change.
“This is hard for me,” Baker said. “I grew up here in my career.” He has worked in the district for 30 years, first as a kindergarten teacher at Garfield. “I wish that it were an option not to close schools, but we can’t run in the red. We must right-size our district. If we don’t, the county and state will do it for us.”
Board President Maria Diaz-Slocum, who grew up in Redwood City and has been a district parent, said, “My mother was a single parent, so I understand that we are impacting family lives and adding stress, and I apologize. We have to keep going.”
She said criticism that the district is mismanaging its money is unwarranted. “If students aren’t here, we won’t have money,” she said.
Trustee Alisa MacAvoy noted that California is 41st among states in per-pupil funding and urged parents to write to their legislators and sign the Full land Fair Funding for California Schools petition. “I’ve talked to a lot of colleagues around the state who are in the same boat,” she said.
She said she looks forward to the transition. “Everybody loves their school. Every student loves the teacher. It will be the same at new schools, and we will help.”
Trustee Janet Lawson thanked the Taft parent who offered a welcome to Fair Oaks students, and Redwood City Teachers Association President Kevin Sugar told the affected families “We’re with you,” and that teachers would work to “help ease the pain.”
Hilary Paulson, who is retiring from the board and was attending her final meeting, said the district would not sell any of its sites and that “We have had expert advice on how to do this.”
“It’s sad for Hilary that we don’t get to celebrate all her contributions,” Diaz-Slocum said.
SCHOOL-BY-SCHOOL BREAKDOWN OF REORGANIZATION PLAN
Here is how the Redwood City School District reorganization will affect each of the district’s 16 schools, beginning next school year.
Fair Oaks: School closes and students move to nearby Taft or have priority in transfer to any other school in the district.
Taft: Absorbs students from Fair Oaks. The district will go ahead with the scheduled two-year Measure T modernization on the Taft campus, at the same time working with the community to develop an “innovative, academically rigorous program serving a culturally and socioeconomically diverse population.”
Orion: The parent-participation program, one of the Schools of Choice magnets that draw students from throughout the district, moves to John Gill, sharing the site with the Mandarin Immersion program. The Allerton Street campus closes. Orion families who choose not to move with the parent-participation program have the option to attend their neighborhood school.
John Gill: Ceases to become a neighborhood school. Current students have first priority to stay as part of the Orion parent-participation program or to move to another school.
Adelante: Campus on Granger Way closes, and its Spanish Immersion program, another of the district magnets, moves to Selby Lane in Atherton to join 250 Spanish Immersion program students there. Adelante families who choose not to move have the option to attend their neighborhood school.
Selby Lane: 460 students not in the immersion program have priority in moving to other schools. The preschool and transitional kindergarten programs at Selby Lane become Spanish Immersion.
Hawes: School closes and students move to nearby Roosevelt, Henry Ford or Orion (John Gill) or have priority to other schools.
Roosevelt, Garfield, Hoover, Kennedy, Clifford, Roy Cloud, McKinley Institute of Technology, North Star Academy and Henry Ford: Not affected except to absorb displaced students from Fair Oaks, Hawes, John Gill and Selby Lane, who will have priority to choose and attend any school in the district.
No determination has been made on what will happen to the closed-school properties.
The district office will close and move to a vacated school sometime in 2020, bringing in a potential revenue of $1.6 million a year. Other projects for the near future are a review of the K-8 vs. K-5/6-8 configuration and a study of the role of North Star Academy, the district’s accelerated-learning choice.
The proposals are designed in part to take advantage of the most popular choice programs, including Roosevelt’s project-based learning, by giving them room to expand and possibly attracting more students.
All the proposals, Supt. John Baker said, “should promote racially and socioeconomically balanced schools and not further segregate our students.” The district has a marked east side-west side imbalance, and most of the district’s enrollment decline is happening on the east side.
REDWOOD CITY SCHOOL DISTRICT DEMOGRAPHICS
SCHOOL CAPACITY* ENROLLMENT * NON-WHITE PERCENTAGE**
Kennedy (6-8) 1,680 706 82
Hoover (K-8) 1,470 681 98
Selby Lane (K-8) 1,290 740 95
Clifford (K-8) 1,110 558 55
Roosevelt (K-8) 1,110 581 80
Taft (K-5) 1,080 331 98
Garfield (K-8) 1,020 570 98
Roy Cloud (K-8) 990 718 37
Fair Oaks (K-5) 960 221 97
Henry Ford (K-5) 780 377 70
McKinley IT (6-8) 720 408 96
John Gill (K-5) 660 288 90
North Star (3-8) 630 536 51
Hawes (K-5) 570 301 98
Adelante (K-5) 550 464 76
Orion (K-5) 270 211 53
Total 14,890 7,691 80
*Redwood City School District figures from early fall 2018
**State Dept. of Education figures for 2017-18
Updated ethnic and socioeconomic makeup figures are soon to be posted on the district website.
Photos courtesy of the Redwood City School District