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February 04, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 04, 2005

School closure decision put off School closure decision put off (February 04, 2005)

Final vote on fate of Slater scheduled Feb. 10

By Julie O'Shea

After listening to more than three hours of heated public comment, Mountain View-Whisman trustees said last week they need more time to consider Superintendent Eleanor Yick's proposal to close Slater Elementary and reconfigure Castro school.

The school board was slated to hand down its final vote on the matter this week but instead will use the scheduled Feb. 3 meeting as a study session to ask clarifying questions about the recommendations.

Trustees are scheduled to cast their votes on Feb. 10. If the plan is approved, Slater will close by the end of June and Castro's English-Spanish language immersion program will move to Landels School. Enrollment at the remaining six elementary schools will climb from an average of 425 to nearly 500 students each, district officials estimated.

On Feb. 17, the trustees are scheduled to begin the lengthy process of redrawing school boundary lines, which could impact many students across the district.

"People kept looking for one criteria to take school closure off the table, and there wasn't (one)," Yick said during last week's heavily attended school board meeting at Crittenden Middle School. "The decision that the school board is faced with is a profound decision. We are trying to do something that is hard to do."

Despite having passed a $1.6 million parcel tax measure, district officials announced last June that the only way they will be able to balance next year's budget will be to close one of Mountain View-Whisman's nine campuses. In addition, enrollment continues to plummet in the 4,300-pupil district.

Yick said the school closure task force, a group of parents, community members, teachers and administrators, narrowed their closure choices to Slater, Castro, Theuerkauf and Huff. The choices were based on a few factors, including the "least disruptive" closure, academic achievement, and cultural, ethnic and socioeconomic diversity.

When the group took a straw vote a few weeks ago, "it became evident that there was one school that met the criteria," Yick said, noting that Slater received 80 percent of the votes to close down. Castro came in a close second.

Yick announced the results Jan. 25. A public meeting on the school closure task force's final report was held two days later. About 200 displeased parents and teachers, mostly from the Slater community, packed into Crittenden's gym to protest the recommendations and dispute the data presented by district officials.

Many demanded that the district reexamine its budget and find the money to keep all schools open. Some complained that property values would go down. And others blasted Yick, saying she is pushing a personal agenda, adding that such a profound decision shouldn't be made until a permanent superintendent is in place. Yick's 10-month contract expires in June, and she is not permitted to reapply for her job, according to her employment deal.

Few spoke in support of the proposed changes.

"Please ask why an acting superintendent is making such drastic changes," Slater parent Robyn Rymer told the board. "We need to relook at the district budget. If you can reassign children, why can't you reassign funds?"

Added Sue Rosen, another Slater parent: "This is incredibly disruptive. It's going to mess up a lot of people's lives."

The Feb. 3 school board meeting will be held at Graham Middle School, starting at 6 p.m. The site of the Feb. 10 meeting has not been announced.

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

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