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Andrew Donohue and I are the People’s Reporters today. You’re our bosses, so send us your tips, questions and assignments on San Diego schools and we’ll do our best to come back with answers. Specifically, we’re homing in on the district’s possible insolvency and school closures.

Parents, teachers and students aimed a lot of anger at the school board Tuesday night. They wanted to know why their 12 schools, out of more than 200 in the district, had been selected for possible closure.

Several readers have also contacted us asking why certain schools are targeted for closure, especially those that parents and teachers say have a great record and are performing well. To find out, I called Deputy Superintendent of Business Phil Stover, who has been overseeing the process.

Stover is one member of a 22-person committee appointed in January by Superintendent Bill Kowba tasked with recommending which schools should be closed.

He said the committee’s recommendations stemmed from an extensive analysis of all the district’s schools. Staff collected data about how many kids attend each school, where they come from, how well each school is doing academically and how much it costs to educate a student at each, he said.

Each school was then given three key grades: One for how full the school is, another for how popular the school is with neighborhood kids — what proportion of local families send their children there — and a third for how much test scores are improving.

The lower the grades, the more likely the school was to be considered for closure, Stover said.

But the committee considered other extraneous circumstances that may have skewed some results or that weren’t taken into account by the analysis, he said.

Stover cited Whitman Elementary School in Clairemont as an example. According to the raw data, Whitman would be fourth on the list of district schools slated for closure, he said.

But Whitman is also one of only two elementary school in the district that focus on teaching children who are deaf or hard of hearing. That skews the numbers, because children are bused there from all around the district, and it also strengthens the case significantly for keeping the school open, Stover said.

To help the committee understand each school’s individual situation, it held meetings around the district to discuss possible closures.

Stover said the committee has heard from hundreds of parents and teachers at those meetings.

But parents at one school, Marvin Elementary in Allied Gardens, told us they didn’t know their school might be closed until reading about it in the Union-Tribune.

Reader Greg Wehrman sent me this email yesterday:

I find this very curious, since according to the principle at Marvin the first he ever knew about Marvin being on this ‘hit list’ was when the news broke last Friday. He nor any member of Marvin’s staff had ever been contacted by the district until AFTER news broke of Marvin being on the list last Friday.

Stover explained what happened at Marvin.

The committee concluded that it needed to close one elementary school in the part of the district encompassing Allied Gardens. But he said the committee couldn’t decide which and sought input for its decision at a September meeting at Patrick Henry High School.

When no clear decision came out of that meeting, the committee decided to recommend Marvin for closure, Stover said. He acknowledged the decision must have come as quite a surprise for supporters of the 328-student school, but said the committee did seek input from the public before making the decision.

(Dozens of Marvin supporters showed up to last night’s school board meeting, where they donned yellow “Save Marvin” T-shirts).

Anyone who’s interested in comparing the numbers, or looking up their neighborhood school’s score, can find all the data the committee considered here.

We also heard from reader Dixie Blake, who emailed us yesterday with several questions about the district’s process for choosing which schools to close. I put Blake’s questions to Stover.

Why did the superintendent, rather than the school board, choose the members of the School Realignment Committee?

Stover said the superintendent directed the staff to put together a committee in January, before the board had determined they wanted to consider school closings. The board didn’t decide to do that until June, Stover said, by which time the committee was already in place.

“We were trying to get ahead of the curve,” he said.

Why did that committee meet in secret?

It didn’t, Stover said.

The meetings weren’t surreptitious or secret, Stover said, they were part of the district’s everyday business, just like dozens of other staff committees that meet all the time at the department.

To find out if a meeting was taking place, a member of the public would have had to call his office or the office of anybody on the committee and they would have been told when and where the meeting was taking place, Stover said.

The meetings also weren’t subject to the state’s open meetings law, known as the Brown Act, he said. The committee wasn’t making any final decisions, it was merely formulating recommendations to take to the board.

That meant they didn’t have to abide by certain formalities like publishing agendas and minutes. But, Stover said, anyone who wanted to could have watched the meetings.

“We didn’t turn anybody away,” he said.

Why were principals (such as the principal of Adams Elementary School) allowed to sit on the committee, isn’t that a conflict of interest?

The principals on the committee didn’t vote on or discuss any decisions that may have affected their schools, Stover said.

Was this a deliberate approach to circumvent being open and transparent?

No, Stover said. In addition to the internal committee meetings, he said he met with more than 1,200 people in public meetings, many of whom had their say in the process.

Besides, he said, the meetings were just a primary phase in a plan that may not ever happen. The committee has merely made recommendations, and those recommendations will be fully vetted in public by the school board.

I hope this has provided some useful insight into what may well become a hard-fought issue.

If you still have unanswered questions, get in touch and we’ll ask them.

The school board will start discussing school closures in its Nov. 29 meeting.

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified Whitman Elementary School as Field Elementary School. The story also identified it as the only school in the district that focuses on teaching children who are deaf or hard of hearing. That’s incorrect. There are two elementary schools in the district with that focus, Whitman and LaFayette Elementary, both in Clairemont. I regret the errors. Phil Stover, who provided this information, misstated the name of the school and the number of schools that serve children who are hard of hearing. Mr. Stover also apologized for his misstatements.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at voiceofsandiego.org. You can reach him at will.carless@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5670.

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Will Carless

Will Carless was formerly the head of investigations at Voice of San Diego.

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