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Ripon Unified will explore school closure alternatives
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RIPON – Before they even consider closure of a school, Ripon Unified board of trustees agreed Monday to first go the route of an ad hoc committee.

This group, according to Superintendent Louise Johnson (formerly Nan), would be made up of dedicated volunteers consisting of parents, staff, and community members.

Together, they’ll  be counted on to study and take a closer look at the state Department of Education’s manual, “School Closure: A Guide to Successfully Closing Schools.”

The board made the painstaking decision to go with this strategic course of action due to the continuous financial cutbacks trickled down from the state.

“We’ve had cutback, after cutback, after cutback,” Trustee Donna Parks said. “We’re faced with same dilemma each year – we have to make a difficult decision.

“We can’t continue cutting teachers. We can’t keep increasing class sizes.”

Ripon Unified received a positive certification from the San Joaquin County Office of Education on the second interim budget report for the 2010-11 school year. That’s with the projected deficit spending, Johnson said.

The estimated $5.8 million balance included $631,480 in reserve funds.

Still, the district is bracing for the worst, in particular, the likelihood of Gov. Jerry Brown’s “all-cut” budget proposal.

Meanwhile, the board agreed, with deep regret, to issue lay-off notices to 11 full-time instructors for the May 15 final budget.

“If there’s a change in the budget, the board can rescind some of the layoffs,” Johnson said.

As for her ad hoc committee, she noted that the recruitment of the informal group of volunteers could come from the orientation meeting scheduled for next Monday, May 16, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The next step would be for this study group to meet weekly during the summer months – June and July – to explore all alternatives to school closure; suggest criteria for consideration as to which school; provide initial analysis of school facility needs; assess risks associated with school closure; and prepare an initial report for the school board.

Trustee could decide by August on whether or not to move forward with school closure by formally appointing the District Advisory Committee.

The board would hope that this committee doesn’t come in conflict with the one in charge of developing the schools facility master plan.

Trustees agreed to consider the process of school closure at the April 18 workshop. It was there that they took action to move out of kindergarten- through third- grade class size reduction by distributing class closures at all of the elementary school sites.

Under the terms of the education code section covering school closure, Johnson indicated that a formal District Advisory Committee would be required only after the district disposes of “surplus property.”

She added: “It is best practice to appoint and involve the formal DAC early in the process of deciding which school to close once the board has made a decision the school closure is the direction of the board.”

But first would come the ad hoc committee or, rather, an informal “superintendent’s committee” to begin the study.

“In this way, we will not have to turn any interested party in the early stages of conversation about the weighty topic,” Johnson said.

The board, for better or worse, believes that this process is necessary given the uncertainty in funding public education.

“The closing of a school might be (our) toughest decision of all,” Parks said.