Parents and community members who have attended public meetings on consolidating schools in the Ravenswood City School District appear split on the pace of the closures, with some supporting the more aggressive approach of closing two schools next fall and others preferring to spread them out over two years.
The district held meetings on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday to solicit public input on shuttering two elementary schools, which staff have said is necessary to keep the district fiscally solvent in the face of steadily declining enrollment. All of Ravenswood's five elementary schools are operating at close to half capacity this year, and the district's overall enrollment is just over 2,000 students.
Brentwood Elementary School is the largest of the five elementary schools this year, with 330 students, followed by Willow Oaks (297), Belle Haven (276), Costaño (267) and Los Robles-McNair (224).
A majority of board members and interim Superintendent Gina Sudaria have voiced support for closing two schools next fall to help close a looming budget deficit. The district is aiming to cut $1.35 million from next year's budget and has identified potential cuts from legal costs, transportation spending and contracts with outside consultants.
Closing a single school represents savings of about $400,000. If the district did not close a school next year, it would face a $1.12 million deficit, Sudaria told more than 30 community members at a meeting at Ravenswood Middle School on Tuesday morning.
"Our resources are spread too thin right now. We're stretching what we have across five elementary schools when we only have enough money to run three elementary schools," she said.
On Tuesday, some parents said they would prefer closing two schools next fall both for financial and other reasons. Doing both at once would have the biggest impact on the district's budget — saving the most money and freeing up two campuses as potential property rentals to bring in revenue — while also keeping up morale, minimizing disruptions for students and focusing staff's energy on the three remaining schools.
"Parents would rather know sooner rather than later where kids will be," one poster documenting a group's feedback from Monday's meeting reads. "Waiting may cause more kids and families to leave."
Others at past meetings, however, said that staggering the consolidations would allow the district to learn from the process, see how the students deal with the first closure and give families time to adjust. (The district has posted feedback from the meetings on a webpage on school consolidation.)
Meeting participants also discussed what factors the district should consider when deciding which schools to merge. Many said they want Ravenswood to maintain its English-Spanish dual immersion program, which is currently housed at Los Robles-Ronald McNair Elementary School.
Others mentioned student safety, traffic, school capacity, facilities (some campuses have been updated more than others), teaching quality and school performance as important elements to consider.
They also talked about factors that would ease the transition if their children's school closes or receives new students, chief among them being district leadership's clear, frequent communication with both families and staff. They also suggested holding social events, forming parent-teacher associations and "rebranding" the merged schools to avoid an "us versus them" mentality. Other ideas included incorporating student input into designing the new schools and providing transportation for students who live farther away from their new campus.
Sudaria has described the consolidation of two schools as a "tough decision" that Ravenswood wanted to avoid, but one that now presents an opportunity for the long-struggling district to revamp and strengthen the remaining campuses to attract and retain more students.
"We design our schools in such a way that families that are in the Tinsley (inter-district transfer) program come back to Ravenswood, that families who are considering leaving Ravenswood change their mind and new families that come into Ravenswood don't overlook us; they choose us first," she said on Tuesday.
Rhonda White, president of the Ravenswood Teachers Association, suggested at Tuesday's meeting that the district consider creating three magnet schools with focuses such as STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and music), visual and performing arts or dual immersion. Other participants mentioned the need for the district to consider how to prevent more students from leaving Ravenswood through the Voluntary Transfer Program (or Tinsley program) or charter schools.
At a special meeting last week, several board members said they would prefer closing two school years next fall.
"I just want to consolidate as many costs — and by costs I don't just mean monetary," President Tamara Sobomehin said. "The energy, the emotion, the anguish, the stress ... for me ... it feels like it would be easier to take it all at once."
Trustee Marielena Gaona Mendoza pressed Sudaria to be specific about the potential redesign of the remaining schools, which "sounds really, really good, but I want to know the details so I can buy into it," she said.
The district will continue to host drop-in office hours this Friday, Nov. 8, between 9-10 a.m. at the district office (2120 Euclid Ave., East Palo Alto) for people who couldn't attend the community meetings. An online survey is also open through this Friday.
Sudaria will summarize all of the public feedback at the Nov. 14 school board meeting in advance of making a recommendation later this month or in early December of specific schools to close. The board is set to make a final decision at its Dec. 12 meeting on which schools to shutter.