Closures create chain reaction

What’s a loss to the Jay Partridge Elementary School community is a gain for two other Chico educational programs.

The Chico Unified School District plans to move the alternative programs from the Fair View High School campus to Jay Partridge and offer up the Fair View site to the charter Chico Country Day School (CCDS).

The staff-level decisions follow the school board’s March 18 vote to close Jay Partridge and Nord schools to save money. At the board’s April 6 meeting, Superintendent Scott Brown announced the moves as part of the district’s School Closures Management Plan.

“We’re very happy with this offer,” Margaret Reece Gazda, CCDS parent and executive director, said in an interview. For years the school’s 400 students have been piecing together rented space in a strip mall off Cohasset Road. Now, their rent is expected to go from $163,000 annually to $40,000.

“We’re excited to pay rent to the district instead of a commercial lease,” Gazda said. “We can spend more money on the education of our kids.”

Bernie Vigallon, the CUSD’s director of alternative education, agreed it’s awkward to be scoping out a school site while its current occupants are mourning the end of school life as they know it. “We want to be sensitive,” he said. “Everyone we met [while examining the site], we apologized.”

Vigallon first came to Fair View as its principal 20 years ago. “It’s very emotional” to be leaving, said Vigallon, who has been getting visits from students who have graduated and want to see the school as it is one last time.

“It’s an opportunity for us to move from a 4-acre campus to a 10-acre campus,” said Vigallon, who already has ideas of expanding programs. Also, he mentioned, the culmination of the state’s High School Exit Exam program will mean a need to “beef up” the district’s GED program.

More than 400 students are slated to move from the Fair View, Center for Alternative Learning (CAL), Alternative Transition Center (ATC) and probably the independent-study programs. The biggest challenge logistically, Vigallon said, will be finding space at what is now Jay Partridge that meets the day care licensing requirements for the Young Parent Program.

Vigallon said he’s not too worried about the busy traffic scene at East Avenue—a setting the board majority noted was risky for kids as they voted to shutter the school.

Similarly, one of CCDS’s concerns about its likely new home is parking: specifically, the lack thereof. Fair View has no off-street parking, leaving cars to spill out into the surrounding neighborhood between Park Avenue and Broadway.

On April 12 the CCDS voted to ask the CUSD to extend its offer 30 days so the school can investigate traffic and other issues. Gazda acknowledged, “It is sort of a take-it or leave-it situation.” Under Proposition 39, a charter school is entitled to take over district space when it’s available, but the district gets to choose which property to offer.

Brown mentioned that Jay Partridge’s playground equipment will likely be moved to Fair View for CCDS’s use.

The district has also decided on the new school boundaries necessitated by the school closures. Next year, Nord students with Form 10s will return to their home attendance areas, while the rest will go to Shasta. Jay Partridge students will attend John McManus, Citrus, or Emma Wilson elementaries, depending on where they live. Also, in 2006-07, some Neal Dow students are expected to be moved to Marigold or Shasta, as some Hooker Oak students will be reassigned to Neal Dow. Additional Hooker Oak children will go to Citrus.

The board also acted on another tangible effect of the closures: the layoff of people holding a long list of classified-employee positions. Because of what Brown called “complex bumping procedures,” the people losing their jobs will be spread throughout the district, and as many as 45 employees could be affected.