Closing schools is no fun

So far, they don’t know what to do.

At its Sept. 21 meeting, the Campus Consolidation Committee appointed by the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees continued to wade through binders full of demographic data, enrollment statistics and budget reports.

“We’re looking for some conclusions that will anchor whatever we decide to recommend,” said Paul Moore, the volunteer committee’s chairperson.

By mid-December, the committee is expected to report to the school board on whether to close elementary schools and, if so, which ones.

“I think when you look at the data, things will jump out at you,” said Cindy Kampf, the district official supporting the committee.

The committee learned that most districts seen as similar to Chico’s have more students per elementary-school site. Some Chico campuses are over capacity, while others are way under.

The group was also told that it doesn’t have to form an opinion on the controversial idea of moving sixth-graders to middle schools; it just has to come up with school-closing possibilities for both scenarios.

Committee member Diana Mills asked that they be told if there are some things—such as moving all schools to year-round—that are philosophically off the table as far as the board and district staff are concerned. “We need to know if there are areas not to venture into,” she said. “We need parameters.”

Trustee Rick Rees, who came to observe, said, “Taxation is the way [revenue-boosting] has to happen. My read is that this community does not want to raise taxes.”

The committee also heard a depressing report on enrollment, which Moore said makes “the financial prospects a little grimmer.”

Average daily attendance had fallen by 911 students since 1997-98, and now the CUSD must add another drop of 152 students this year.

With each student lost, the district misses out on $35.46 per day from the state. That means the district will have to cut $1.8 million from its 2005-06 budget.

The district’s most recent estimate is that closing an in-town school would save $480,000 a year—up from an estimate of $430,000 just a month ago. Closing the three “small schools” in Nord, Cohasset and Forest Ranch would save $445,000 altogether.

Moore pointed out that enrollment projection is an inexact science and the timeline to implement the committee’s suggestions could be so long that the problem could be solved by simply waiting for student numbers to turn around.

What if, "by the time we get anything done, we’ll be there," he wondered.