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Committee says close annexes at Lathrop, Sequoia before other sites

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POSTED December 18, 2008 12:23 a.m.
Shuttering two elementary annex campuses — Sequoia and Lathrop — as well as consolidating Calla High with New Vision High at the Weston Ranch campus were identified Wednesday as the lesser of evils if Manteca Unified needs to resort to closing schools to bridge a $14 million budget deficit.
The three recommendations — identified as Level II cuts — could save upwards of $1.15 million. The school board has already made $5.25 million in cuts and needs to come up with another $8.75 million in reductions in order to meet a state-mandate to balance the 2009-10 fiscal year budget.
All of the other proposed cuts — closing Lathrop High, closing McParland Annex, and shuttering a combination of three elementary schools — are being classified as Level III.
The entire 100-member budget reduction committee consisting of a cross-section of teachers, administrators and classified employees will meet Jan. 6-7 to prepare a final recommendation to the school board. They will decide what actually advances as a package of Level II cuts to the board that, given the consensus, might decide to adopt them in their entirety. Since it is doubtful Level II would come up with all of the money needed to be cut, the board would then  go through a list of Level III cuts one-by-one to decide what they believe is best to eliminate to come  up with the needed savings.
During the sub-committee meeting Wednesday at the district’s administrative complex, just over a dozen educators from throughout the district worked with Acting Superintendent Jason Messer to prioritize the list of schools that could possibly face closure in order to close the $14 million deficit.
With the decision before them to place the proposed sites into one of two categories – Level II or Level III – it was ultimately decided after three rounds of voting that the Sequoia Elementary Annex and the Lathrop Annex would receive the Level II designations, as would the plan to consolidate Weston Ranch’s New Vision High School with the long-running Calla High School at the newer school’s campus in Stockton.
If the full committee upholds the recommendations, they will then be forwarded on to the Board of Education for consideration.
So far trustees have cut roughly $5.25 million out of the budget deficit – leaving $8.75 million more in order to raise the district out of the red – and have made every attempt at preventing the layoff of employees.
And even if the three proposals put before the board are approved, they’ll only take $1.15 million off of the looming tab with the March 1 deadline to layoff certificated employees fast approaching.
While none of the educators in attendance Wednesday wanted to see any permanent closures, seeing certain schools going without students struck personal chords with some.
“We all realize that cuts have to be made, and no matter where we make them they’re going to painful somebody,” said Great Valley Principal Sonya Arellano – a Nile Garden alum. “We should be looking for the options that allow us to not break up the students while moving to a new site completely.”
Heading into Wednesday’s meeting, it was the five elementary schools with the lowest enrollment that were on the potential chopping block – along with Lathrop High School and a multitude of combinations dealing with specialized secondary education facilities like Calla High, New Visions, and Manteca Day – to be cataloged according to whether they’re still cost-effective to operate, and how much their closure with impact the overall operations of the district as well as the schooling of the students.
Veritas Elementary was the only school to receive a unanimous Level III vote on the first ballot – eventually joined by French Camp Elementary, Lathrop High School, and Manteca Day School.
But even as the group pondered the categorization of almost half-a-dozen elementary schools and the district’s alternative high school programs, the fact that they weren’t saving nearly as much money as one would think wasn’t lost on those in attendance.
“I was expecting to see much more money on each of the things on this list,” Neil Hafley Vice Principal Sherrie Jamero said. “When you’re trying to cut out $14 million, $500,000 just doesn’t seem like that much money.”
It will eventually be up the school board to decide which of the Level III schools remaining will still be considered for either closure or consolidation.
Those options left on the table include:
• Closing Nile Garden to save the district $580,000.
• Closing Joshua Cowell to save the district $384,000.
• Shutting down Veritas Elementary to save the district $517,000.
• Closing New Haven to save $633,000.
• Shuttering French Camp to save $489,000.
• Temporarily sending the students from Lathrop High School back to Sierra and Weston Ranch, saving $1.4 million.
Closing Manteca Day School would save the district an additional $311,000, while consolidating Calla, New Vision, and Manteca Day would save a total of $665,000.
According to Messer, certain elementary school sites like Nile Garden and Veritas and New Haven and Joshua Cowell couldn’t be done together because of the overall impact on the students in that given area.
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