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A San Diego Unified committee is inching towards a decision on which schools, if any, to recommend for closure to save money in the cash-strapped district, which faces an estimated $40 million shortfall this school year. Today the group began talking about “killer conditions” — factors that would absolutely bar the school district from closing an under-enrolled school.

Thus far, staffers have identified possible “killer conditions” at only two schools: Lafayette Elementary, which houses special programs for the deaf and hard of hearing that could be expensive to export to another school, and Barnard Elementary, which has a federal grant for its Mandarin Chinese magnet program that Chief School Innovation and Choice Officer Rich Cansdale said requires the program to stay at the same physical site.

Though those two “killer conditions” were discussed, the committee didn’t officially eliminate any schools from consideration for closure. San Diego Unified staffers estimate that running an under-enrolled school costs $500,000 that could be saved if the school were closed and its students sent elsewhere, but such closures are bitterly controversial. Roughly 40 people packed a midday meeting today to join the discussion, many of whom were protective of their neighborhood schools and uneasy about the process by which San Diego Unified is planning school closures.

Holly Stevens, president of the Parent Teacher Association at Sequoia Elementary, questioned how the district could comply with its own policies requiring community input and still close schools by this fall, as intended. Sequoia is among the 17 schools being eyed for closure. The committee is scheduled to give the school board its recommendations on any potential closures in January, and any final decision is left to the board and it’s unclear how many — if any — will ultimately be closed.

“How is this being superseded?” Stevens asked the committee chairman, Jim Varnadore.

Varnadore was sympathetic. “This is not the optimal way to do business,” he said, adding, “We are not in the normal times that were envisioned when [those policies] were written.”

EMILY ALPERT

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