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Cuts could pit rural against city

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POSTED December 17, 2008 1:44 a.m.
It could come down to well-established rural schools pitted against newer city schools if the Manteca Unified School District board is eventually forced to close down elementary campuses to bridge a $14 billion deficit.
The district’s five elementary schools with the smallest enrollment — Nile Garden, Veritas, New Haven, Joshua Cowell, and French Camp — are being studied for potential closure to cut costs. Together, they represent around $2.5 million in potential savings and are primarily on the back of classified employees and administrators who would lose their jobs in such an eventuality. In reality if the district had to go as far as to close elementary schools, not all of the campuses could be closed. Instead there are really three potential scenarios:
• Close either Nile Garden or Veritas and have the bulk of students sent to the campus that stays open.
• Close either New Haven or Joshua Cowell and send the bulk of students to the school that remains open.
• Close French Camp and disperse the students to elementary campuses in Weston Ranch or to Mossdale in Lathrop.
The sub-committee of the 100-member budget reduction task force that deals with school closures and consolidations painted a potential political mine field the school board ultimately will face if they have to go as far as closing elementary schools — or even Lathrop High — to come up with the additional $8.75 million in cuts that must be made. The board has already put in motion $5.25 million in so-called Level I cuts.
While the group noted there would be strong negative reaction in the community served by any of the schools should they close, they pointed out it would be heightened in the case of Lathrop High, New Haven, Nile Garden and French Camp schools.
Several members went as far as to say the community of Lathrop would probably start talking recall of board members should the just opened high school campus be closed.
But they also expect the reaction to be as intense should Nile Garden, New Haven or French Camp be shuttered. Each school has 50 or more years of history.
The board — if it gets down to closing elementary schools — can’t simply pick one factor and weigh them all on it.
For example, Cowell and Veritas are newer schools but the other three have been either extensively remodeled or in the process of being done as in the case of French Camp, which is also getting a community gym. Money for renovation and the community gym come from restricted sources and can’t be used for day-to-day operations.
New Haven and Nile Garden are among the higher performing schools in the district in terms of state test scores while French Camp — a federal Title I school — has made significant strides in test score growth due to programs tailor-made for its students. It also has a migrant schedule in place for children of farm workers — something no others school has. It is also the only school on the possible closure list that has a full After School Program through Give Every Child a Chance. That is significant as it is an after-school childcare option for French Camp area families, most of whom have both parents working.

The savings for each possible school closure
A breakdown of the potential savings of closing each school down including vice principal positions the board has already indicated they plan to eliminate are as follows:
• Shuttering Nile Garden with 514 students could save $580,000.
• Closing Joshua Cowell with 540 students could save $384,000.
• Closing Veritos School could save $517,000.
• Shuttering New Haven could save $633,000.
• Closing French Camp School could save $489,000.
If the board did get down to closing elementary campuses, the most it could realistically save is $1.7 million by closing Nile Garden, New Haven, and French Camp due to the fact that students have to be housed somewhere.
The savings do not factor in the need for security. The only campus currently with a caretaker is Joshua Cowell School. The committee felt all campuses would be vulnerable to vandalism specially Veritas which is across the street from the Promenade Shops at Orchard Valley lifestyle center.
None of the school closures would cost teaching jobs although here are other issues being considered — such as class-size reduction — that would.
All of the schools could be vulnerable to being taken over all or in part by a charter school if they are closed.
The sub-group of school consolidation and closure is rating potential cuts in two categories — Level II and Level II. A combined meeting of all 100-members of the budget reduction committee representing a cross section of teachers, administrators and classified employees will gather Jan. 6-7 to cobble together two lists.
Level II are cuts that are going to the board in a package because they’ll have consensus, it is hoped that the Level II cuts will be adopted as one package by the board. Level II cuts — the ones viewed as the last resort — would be presented separately.
Acting District Superintendent Jason Messer has made it clear he seriously doubts Level II cuts will cover the remaining $8.75 million deficit making some type of Level II cuts essential.
All of the possible cuts being recommended by the committees are just that — possible cuts. The final call is up to the Manteca Unified board.
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