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San Diego Unified has grappled for years with how to cut the costs of running schools that serve far fewer students than originally planned, but balked at taking action. Now a school district committee is pointing out the exact costs of running each half-empty school and ranking them based on expense and enrollment, prodding San Diego Unified to make better use of its buildings.

Under-enrolled schools pull in less state attendance money than other schools, but have similar fixed costs for the principals who oversee them and the buildings that house them. Operating a school with fewer than 400 students costs an estimated $400,000 more than closing that school, San Diego Unified staffers have calculated.

Some are especially expensive. Keeping Crown Point Elementary running with 178 students costs $1,853 per student in facilities expenses — more than $1,000 per student more than larger elementary schools such as Hearst and Ross elementary schools, which each have more than 400 students.

That number is even more startling because Crown Point had an influx of new students this year, thanks to a Suzuki violin program that helped cut the per-student facilities cost of running the school. Crown Point ranked as the most expensive school among the under-enrolled schools in San Diego Unified, according to a table created by district staffers.

The Small Schools Committee has tossed out a few ideas for the under-enrolled schools: creating small high schools, as advocated by Superintendent Terry Grier, a newcomer school for students who know little English, satellite offices for administration, and training teachers at a functioning small school.

EMILY ALPERT

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