The San Diego Unified School board decided this morning to pull the plug on its program to close small, underperforming schools next year in order to save money.

The board had hoped to save the district $4 million by closing eight schools next year. This morning’s direction from the board has two big impacts:

• The district will now have to find that $4 million savings elsewhere.

• District staff won’t have to spend the next few months studying which schools to close.

The second of these points is significant in the light of what happened last year, when the board told staff to spend months studying which schools to close, only to balk at taking action on the recommendations staff came back with.

(While the school closure drama was playing out last year, trustee Shelia Jackson claimed she couldn’t be blamed for the shortlist of schools to close, since the school board didn’t even know what the criteria were for choosing the schools. As we pointed out, the board had set the criteria and, indeed, had set the whole program in motion. The statement resulted in a classic fact-check.)

As I outlined in this story, it wasn’t the first time the district had talked tough on closing schools then backtracked when parents protested the closures.

This morning’s decision preempts any wasted effort by staff and ensures parents don’t have to go through months of stress as their schools are placed on a shortlist for closure.

Rather than having his staff spend months looking into which schools to close, district Deputy Superintendent of Business Phil Stover convened a workshop with the board to ascertain whether they really wanted to move ahead with a program that could end up with schools being closed to save money.

The three board members who were at the meeting decided they didn’t.

For context, here’s the reasoning for closing small schools, from my story last year:

The district has a large number of small schools with fewer than 300 students. Running those small schools is expensive, and the district may well be going broke. Faced with a minimum deficit of $60 million next year, the district has to cut spending significantly, and has estimated it can save $500,000 for every school it closes.

And the argument for closing small schools has only gotten stronger as the district’s student body has continued to shrink. Since fall 2003, the district has lost 11 percent of its enrollment, or more than 14,000 students.

Will Carless is an investigative reporter at Voice of San Diego currently focused on local education. 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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