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December 31, 2004

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Publication Date: Friday, December 31, 2004

School closure decision looms School closure decision looms (December 31, 2004)

MV-W supe to make announcement Jan. 27

By Julie O'Shea

The long wait is nearly over: Mountain View-Whisman Superintendent Eleanor Yick is expected to announce which one of the district's seven elementary school campuses she is recommending for closure at a special school board meeting Jan. 27.

If the recommendation is approved by trustees Feb. 3, the chosen school will close by the end of June.

"I think the community is still in a little bit of denial, but it's definitely going to happen," said trustee Fiona Walter, a Huff Elementary parent, who said she will approve closing her children's school if necessary.

The school closure task force, which consists of parents, teachers and administrators, is scheduled to meet publicly three more times on Jan. 4, 11 and 18 before handing its top two choices over to Yick, who will bring a final recommendation to the board of trustees.

The task force is focusing on the district's seven elementary schools: Bubb, Castro, Huff, Landels, Monta Loma, Slater and Theuerkauf. The task force has decided to leave the district's two middle schools, Graham and Crittenden, open.

"We haven't talked seriously about which school to close. ... (But) we are down to the wire, and we really need to make a decision," said school board president Ellen Wheeler, who is serving on the task force. "Everyone takes this very seriously. I think we are going to make a good decision."

Mountain View-Whisman is one of many school districts around the state that is shutting down campuses due to low enrollment and escalating financial challenges.

Earlier this month, parents at the beleaguered Oakland Unified School District loudly protested when the state administrator in charge of the district announced seven campuses will close next year. San Jose Unified trustees closed three elementary schools earlier this year and parents are currently banding together to try and stop their district board from closing another campus.

Yick said she realizes that closing a school at Mountain View-Whisman may incite strong emotions, but she sees no other way around it.

"People are very bonded to their local school. You don't want to see it disappear, you just don't," she said. But "we've reached the point where we've done what we can do. Besides the deficit factor, we are really dealing with less students," she added.

Mountain View-Whisman's enrollment currently hovers around 4,300 pupils, down from 4,440 the previous year. A recent demographic study shows district enrollment won't reach 4,400 again until 2011.

Yick said if individual school enrollment, which currently ranges from 360 to 475, reaches 500, the board will look at reopening a campus. If figures from the demographic study hold true, that could happen by 2014.

But more pressing than declining enrollment may be the budget issue. Despite having passed a $1.6 million parcel tax, school leaders have repeatedly stated that the only way they will be able to balance next year's budget is to close a campus.

The district, which has an operating budget of $32.3 million, would save $150,000 in staffing and maintenance costs, according to finance chief Rebecca Wright. And if trustees decide to lease out the property, Mountain View-Whisman would bring in at least $400,000 annually in rent, Wright said.

E-mail Julie O'Shea at [email protected]

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