Though San Diego Unified has been floating the idea of closing small elementary schools for months, the schools on the chopping block have changed.
The district replaced the names that an advisory committee chose in January after months of debate with a new, significantly different list that includes schools that are significantly less expensive to operate than the schools that were taken off the list.
Small elementary schools have been considered for closure because running schools with fewer students costs more in administration and facilities costs than closing them and sending their students to neighboring schools, provided that students do not defect from the school district entirely.
Staffers decided to spare three schools — Crown Point, Barnard and Carver — that were earlier recommended for closure and added four more schools to the list that the committee did not recommend: Adams, Paradise Hills, Rolando Park and Rowan. All four schools, located in the central and southern stretches of the school district, are less expensive to operate than the three schools removed from the list, according to data generated by San Diego Unified earlier this year.
Chief Special Projects Officer William Kowba said the choices were made based on how much their enrollment had dropped and which schools could be easily closed and their students relocated over the summer; Superintendent Terry Grier added that the school district factored in the cost of relocating portable classrooms to fit the displaced children in neighboring schools. (Check out this document on the capacity available to take students in at neighboring schools.) The spreadsheet used to calculate those costs and generate the new list was not immediately available Thursday morning.
Barnard and Crown Point, both located near the coast, were also “evolving young magnet schools” that the staffers decided not to sacrifice, Kowba said. Barnard specializes in Mandarin Chinese and Crown Point is a Suzuki violin school. He did not mention Carver, an Oak Park school that has been floated as a potential magnet school for Arabic, when explaining why the schools had been removed from the list.
Data generated by San Diego Unified for the small schools committee indicate that Barnard, Carver and Crown Point cost $8,311, $6,625 and $7,031 per student to operate, significantly more than the four added schools, which cost between $5,109 and $6,158 per student. The numbers do not include costs of relocating classrooms, nor do they incorporate estimates of the capacity of neighboring schools.
Crown Point is also the most expensive magnet school to operate in San Diego Unified. It is expected to cost $2,283 per student in extra magnet funding next year, compared to $522 per pupil for the music conservatory at Oak Park Elementary and $559 per student for the Creative and Performing Arts Middle School. The second most expensive magnet per student, Millennial Tech Middle, is expected to cost $1,099 per student next year. In addition, Crown Point busing costs more per student than transportation at any other magnet: $9,781 per student compared to $4,327 at Barnard and under $3,000 for all other schools. Grier said the expense was justified because the school will draw parents who would otherwise send their children to private school.
The switch upset Edith Smith, who sat on the committee earlier this year and opposed plans to close Rolando Park years ago. The school is located close to the border of the school district, which could cause families to defect to Lemon Grove or other schools if their local school is closed.
“A lot of parents and staff came out and talked about their schools, the process, and alternatives. It was very open and transparent. If they were just going to make their own list,” she said, pausing. “It’s dishonoring the process to me.”