Shuffle sixth-graders and shutter schools?

They’re calling it the “campus consolidation committee,” but everyone knows that translates to a much blunter goal: closing schools.

But before the yet-to-be-appointed volunteer committee can get down to business, the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees must decide what it wants to do with sixth-graders, an issue that is sure to make for the next big fight in the CUSD.

That fight will likely be bested by the one after it: which schools to close. Will it be the much-loved but expensive-to-run small schools in Nord, Cohasset and Forest Ranch? Or will it be one or more of the 13 elementary schools in town? The CUSD says closing all the small schools would save $436,650; each in-town closure would save $425,000.

The committee will also take into account a $35,000 demographics survey commissioned by the CUSD that’s due in this week. The firm is using high-tech mapping software and other techniques to determine where kids live and what schools they’re currently attending or expected to attend. Some trustees have expressed an interest in balancing schools socioeconomically, but all agree they want to see enrollment projections through 2013-14 and redraw school boundaries.

The board plans to decide at its June 16 meeting which nine out of the 41 people being considered should be appointed to the committee. They agreed a good number would be nine members.

And, the board promised, the meetings will be wide open.

Board President Steve O’Bryan said the Campus Consolidation Committee will “absolutely” meet in public.

That’s unlike the Strategic Planning meetings of 2002 that were illegally shuttered by a prior board that didn’t want the participants to feel constrained or uncomfortable in their deliberations. That move earned the CUSD a threat of a lawsuit from Chico’s daily newspaper for violating the Ralph M. Brown Act, the state’s open-meeting law. All board-appointed committees must meet openly, but back then the CUSD tried to argue that it was actually the superintendent who had formed the Strategic Planning group.

After the decision about the sixth graders, which O’Bryan called "politically charged," is made, the committee will meet through January 2005 and submit a report to the board, after which public hearings will be held. If schools will be closed, it will affect jobs, so a vote will take place by mid-March to allow time to send notices of potential layoff.