Think carefully before closing schools

Dawn R. McCoy is a trustee for the Sacramento City Unified School District who was elected in 2002

Voting against the Marian Anderson Elementary School closure at the March 16 Sacramento City Unified School Board meeting was the right decision. I cast the dissenting vote (5-1, with one abstention), and this is why.

First, a school closure without adequate community input is unacceptable. Last year, the Annenberg Foundation concluded that the Sacramento City Unified School District (SCUSD) needed better community engagement. Was a February 23 action plan to inform the Marian Anderson community adequate notification? Even without elaborate parent engagement, the community should have been consulted, not simply advised about the closure at March 7 and 14 community meetings.

Second, recommendations from a district elementary-school utilization committee assembled last November concluded that declining enrollment meant closing schools. This conclusion was unfounded and did not relinquish the board from its responsibility to exhaust all options other than closure.

What about re-examining school-district boundaries? What about bringing students back to Sacramento schools?

Third, a two-year declining-enrollment study overlooked equity considerations. The SCUSD strategic plan aims to uphold equity for every student; however, greater accountability is required. Apparently, some schools were examined, but there were no reports about inter-agency partnerships or interventions to reverse the declining enrollment trend. Some schools managed to attract students. For instance, California Middle School was cited in a February 15, 2006, Sacramento Bee article as an example of how declining enrollment was successfully reversed for Land Park families, resulting in the improved quality of neighborhood elementary and middle schools.

Can we replicate these productive strategies for other schools district-wide? If we really mean equity for all students, then why penalize some based on which neighborhood school they attend?

Finally, the board disregarded committee recommendations. The committee advised SCUSD staff to “investigate with community involvement the suitability of maintaining Marian Anderson as an elementary school” [emphasis added]. The committee’s decision to ignore the public left many with questions and criticism, unwilling to endorse closure. Hasty school-by-school recommendations are not a panacea and sometimes create unexpected complications.

In the future, examining all district facilities and listening to the public will ensure equity for every student.