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February 25, 2005

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Publication Date: Friday, February 25, 2005

Castro now closure target Castro now closure target (February 25, 2005)

School board votes to keep Slater in new plan

By Julie O'Shea

The decision to close a school in the Mountain View-Whisman School District has been put off for at least another month as a new plan to close Castro Elementary emerged last week.

In a surprising twist, a divided school board voted on Feb. 16 to toss the superintendent's recommendation to close Slater Elementary and restructure Castro. In a 3-2 vote, it decided to target Castro for closure.

School board members will hold two community forums March 10 and 16 at Castro before they are scheduled to take a vote on March 22.

The last-minute proposal, presented by board president Ellen Wheeler on Wednesday night, drew stunned silence from the crowd of parents, teachers and administrators who thought they had come to hear the final vote on a plan to close Slater and restructure Castro.

Wheeler's proposal, which she drafted Saturday, received support from trustees Gloria Higgins and Fiona Walter, with trustees Fran Kruss and RoseMary Roquero adamantly opposed. Wheeler said that closing Castro, the lowest-performing school in the district with a high number of English-language learners, was the best decision, citing 12 reasons in a two-page letter to the board of trustees.

But a visibly upset Roquero disagreed. "I am definitely not comfortable with closing Castro. Why in the world would we choose a campus that is the most fragile?" she said.

Roquero, along with Higgins, was also in the minority in the board's decision to definitely close a school by June.

Higgins, a Slater parent, said she could support closing Castro in June, but if the board ultimately decides to shut Slater, she would want to wait a year.

"I do think it's in the best interest of English-language learners to close Castro," Higgins said.

Wheeler's proposal calls for shutting down Castro at the end of June and moving the school's Spanish-English dual immersion to Landels, where it has the potential of attracting more native-English-speaking families. Wheeler said she would want Castro's eight preschool classes to stay at its campus.

"I'm very stunned and perplexed. Our minds are racing," Castro teacher Gloria Valdez told trustees. "This proposal is not viable."

The plan also shocked Slater parents who had pleaded for weeks to keep their school open.

"The ship has hit an iceberg. There is no denying that," said Chris Kuszmaul, Slater's PTA president, speaking to the board. "There is nothing that can be done to prevent the damage that's been done."

Castro was the school-closure task force's second choice to close, and Wheeler, who sat on this committee, said she believes closing the Escuela Avenue campus would cause the least disruption.

But Kruss questioned if considering a completely different proposal so late in the process was such a good idea. "Keep the things that are working working," she said. "I can't support anything that's going to make the district look at another piece."

Parents had packed board meetings over the last month, begging trustees to hold off on closing a school for one more year.

But district officials argued there is simply not enough money in the budget nor enough students to fill each classroom to justify keeping all seven elementary schools open. Currently, there are 30 unused classrooms scattered throughout the district, which are worth as much as $400,000 if the board decides to close one school and lease out the vacant buildings.

"Every child in this district is a worthy recipient of that money," Wheeler said. In an interview after Wednesday's meeting, she said she had been considering the idea to close Castro for a while but felt that there needed to be a debate about the recommendation to close Slater first.

After listening to weeks of impassioned pleas from Slater parents at board meetings and via e-mail, Wheeler said she thought the board needed to look at another alternative. She sat down four days prior to Wednesday night's meeting to type out her Castro-closure proposal on her home computer.

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

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