Parents charge racism in school closures
Even as trustees considered this week whether to close certain Chico schools, supporters fought to save them, calling the proposed cuts unnecessary and discriminatory.
Members of Schools United for Better Solutions (SUBS) rallied March 14 in front of the Chico Unified School District Office on East Seventh Street. School closures were on the school board’s action calendar for March 16, after the News & Review’s press time.
At the rally, where signs in English and Spanish read “Save all schools” and “Children of color matter too,” there was a strong showing by students, parents and others from Rosedale, Jay Partridge and Nord elementaries—the campuses that have risen to the top of the potential-cuts list.
And now the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has gotten involved, drafting a petition in support of keeping Rosedale and Nord open. The petition argues that the proposed closure of some of the district’s most ethnically diverse schools violates students’ civil rights.
Enrollment has declined by more than 1,000 students since the 1997-98 school year, and each child lost means $35.46 a day less in Average Daily Attendance (ADA) money from the state.
Needing to cut at least $1 million from the CUSD budget, trustees last fall appointed a Campus Consolidation Committee to explore how students could be shifted around and schools closed. District officials figure each in-town school closure would save $444,169 a year, while closing Nord would save $164,708. The committee passed along four recommendations, which involved closing three rural schools, Jay Partridge and/or Rosedale, and changing Hooker Oak to a K-8 campus. Closing Citrus Elementary was also suggested by one committee member.
During the rally, some said the district’s idea could backfire.
The parents of many of Nord Elementary’s 54 students have pledged to send their children to Hamilton City or home-school them, cutting the CUSD out of their ADA money altogether.
Claire Johnson, spokesperson for SUBS, said the group has met with district leaders and come up with some creative ways to save $1 million without closing schools.
In a report the group planned to present to trustees March 16, SUBS suggested that the district could take a number of steps to save money, including some measures district staff members themselves suggested, such as reducing administration, cutting back on athletics and moving year-round schools to a traditional calendar. But another idea is to push cafeteria services to pay for itself within two years, saving $200,392 that SUBS says could be made up by shifting grant money and school site allocations and using dollars set aside for strategic planning.
“If we found it, that means it’s there, and [closing schools] is not a financial decision, it’s a policy decision,” Johnson said. It’s also one that raises additional issues, ranging from busing to “Form 10” transfers. “It’s going to have a domino effect across the entire system.”
Superintendent Scott Brown has been accused of wanting elementary schools to hold 600 to 900 students, as in big cities.
But if schools instead become smaller, asked SUBS volunteer Cathy Frost, "is that really a bad thing?"