With a $1.4 million structural deficit and a goal of creating a balanced budget, San Bruno school officials recently started discussing whether closing a campus would be part of the conversation.
Emotions were high Wednesday night when board President Henry Sanchez broached the topic at a meeting of the San Bruno Park Elementary School District Board of Trustees. His question was simple: Is closing a school one of the tools we'd like to discuss in hopes of creating a balanced budget? While the board agreed to continue the exploration, the idea wasn't strongly supported.
"I have always and will always remain an opponent to closing a school,” said Trustee Skip Henderson.
Trustee Jennifer Blanco also shared strong concerns about the idea. However, she also said teachers had approached her to request that if such a decision were to be made, it be done quickly. Then families and employees would have time to consider their options.
Sanchez and Trustee Kevin Martinez were interested in learning about the possible benefits from consolidating two schools. For example, joining schools could allow for fewer classes with students in multiple grades.
In April, the board voted against a proposal to close two schools — El Crystal and Crestmoor elementary schools. The conversation caused a community uproar and meeting protests featured children speaking about the importance of their teachers and school community. A petition with more than 900 signatures was presented in opposition to the idea of school closure. Another cause for concern was how the talks of school closure had progressed.
It resulted in a parent-driven parcel tax effort. Measure G, a $199 annual parcel tax on the November ballot, failed to meet the two-thirds threshold.
In the first interim budget update, San Bruno's plan recognized it would most likely need to make $335,000 to $400,000 in ongoing budget reductions this year along with an additional $1.4 million in cuts in each of the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.
In November, a report by the Fiscal Sustainability Task Force put out some possible options for cuts. For example, closing a school could save $236,000; eliminating contracted physical education in fourth and fifth grades would save $110,000; moving a special education class back to the district would save an estimated $450,000; and furloughs could save hundreds of thousands. Raising revenue is also an option. Most notably, the task force report shows renting out a closed school could generate more than $600,000 annually.
Henderson said he didn't believe closing a school would create that kind of saving. However, when asked by Sanchez what else he would cut, there was no response.
As a district, San Bruno has previously tackled the possibility of closing a school during the 2006-07 school year due to a drop in enrollment. An enrollment uptick for the following school year caused the district to drop the talks.
Declining enrollment forced the closure of two schools in the 1970s. Carl Sandburg Elementary was closed in 1978 and was sold for $30.5 million in 2006. The district leases 20 acres for a driving range on what was once Engvall Middle School at Interstate 280 and Sneath Lane to VB Golf Inc.
At the same meeting, the board continued a vote to ratify a four-year contract with Superintendent David Hutt from July, 1 2013 through June 30, 2017. The contract calls for a base salary of $132,138 with $8,000 in stipends recognizing his doctorate, time with the district, for life insurance and for a car allowance, according to the staff report.
Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.