Alum Rock trustees vote to close two San Jose middle schools

Facing a deficit of more than $3 million, Alum Rock Union School District trustees voted unanimously to close Clyde L. Fischer Middle School and Lee Mathson Middle School at the start of the 2021-22 school year.

The resolution came from Superintendent Hilaria Bauer, who said student enrollment at the schools is projected to plummet 50% by 2027. She described the closures as being “in the best interests of the district community.” About 8,800 students are enrolled in the district’s 24 schools.

Closing the schools and merging them with Renaissance Academy—which operates on both the Fischer and Mathson campuses—was the only choice on the table at Thursday’s trustees meeting. Renaissance curriculum places emphasis on art, science and social justice.

Fischer Middle School has 229 students, with 294 attending its Renaissance Academy. Meanwhile, 214 students attend Mathson Middle School and 276 attend its Renaissance Academy.

Trustees decided to allow students to enroll at any district campus once both middle schools close.

“I personally was not signing up to shut down any sites,” said board Vice President Andres Quintero. “The option we were looking at was something we wound up with.”

Alum Rock Union School District needed to take action to remain financially solvent, he said, and the decision was unpopular among parents. The district could save $700,000 annually by closing and consolidating the middle schools.

While the Alum Rock Board of Trustees established a Facilities Repurposing Advisory Committee comprised of parents and educators to identify vacant campus space that could be repurposed, Bauer ultimately determined the plan to close the two schools. Mathson and Fischer were on a list of schools the advisory committee considered for closure.

The committee also discussed proposals to lease out the empty spaces and rooms at both campuses. Suggestions include a community garden for education purposes, as well as adult classes and daycare.

Trustees made no decision on the advisory committee’s proposals, and details on the school closures were sparse—no word on the impact the decision will have on faculty and staff, nor on which spaces will be leased out and for how much.

“It does generate revenue. How much I have no idea,” said Jocelyn Merz, president of the Alum Rock Educators Association and advisory committee member.

Board President Corina Herrera-Loera said vacant spaces that are close together should be prioritized for leasing to avoid scattering renters among the school children.

Though details on potential staff and faculty cutbacks have yet to be made public, Merz said she’s meeting with Bauer’s office Monday to get more information.

“There’s just all kinds of hearsay going around,” Merz said. “It’s challenging because our teachers have been challenged enough with not knowing what the plan was for reopening schools. This throws another curveball into the mix.”

According to enrollment data compiled by the advisory committee, the district projects enrollment will drop to 6,600 students districtwide by 2027, compared to 12,500 students in the 2011-12 school year.

Herrera-Loera said parents will have the choice of sending their children to Renaissance Academy.

Though the district projects saving close to $1 million by closing the two middle schools, the funds won’t be enough to offset the remaining budget deficit.

The district faced financial trouble in the past, most recently when the Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury found in 2018 that board members approving multi-million dollar contracts to construction company Del Terra failed to keep track of the funds.

As a worst case scenario, trustees could attempt to secure a state loan to relieve the deficit but it was not considered as a viable option. If that happened, the State Board of Education would assign a trustee to oversee the San Jose district until the loan is paid off.

The board has not identified other cost-saving measures to keep budget spending from slipping into the red, but Quinteros said more discussions will take place.

“There is a significant gap,” he said. “So we’re going to have to get creative on how to resolve the deficit.”.

Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.

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