San Jose: Three Evergreen elementary schools could close due to deficit

Citing low enrollment across its 15 elementary schools in East San Jose, the Evergreen School District Board of Trustees voted 4-1 this week to embark on a plan that would potentially close or consolidate two schools next year and a third school the following year.

After roughly 45 minutes of discussion during a meeting Thursday, Trustee Jim Zito cast the lone dissenting vote.

According to officials, the district is expected to lose 443 students in the 2020-21 school year and 314 the following year, tripling a $5.6 million deficit it currently faces to $16.6 million by 2022.

The five trustees during the meeting Thursday stressed the importance of moving forward with the long-discussed plan to close three schools to save money and boost withering student enrollment in existing schools. Zito voted against the superintendent’s proposal because he wants the district to have more time to thoughtfully execute the plan — suggesting the decision to adopt a plan to potentially close the three schools be moved to the 2021-22 year.

While Superintendent Emy Flores said administrators have not decided which East San Jose schools to shutter, Zito mentioned that Dove Hill and Laurelwood Elementary schools had been singled out as potential contenders.

“I’m asking, considering the gravity of what we’re doing, that we do this process correctly,” Zito said Thursday.

Zito also suggested the district consider the timing of the school closures as it coincides with a $125 million bond measure for technology and safety upgrades headed to the ballot in March 2020. He noted that asking taxpayers for money just months before closing the schools might not sit well with the public.

The other board members — along with most residents who attended the meeting  — said the school closures aren’t ideal, but necessary to make ends meet and reel in soaring costs in the district.

Tami Compton, a first grade teacher at Carolyn A. Clark Elementary School, said enrollment numbers districtwide have dipped below where they were 10 years ago — forcing some schools to combine grade levels into one classroom.

“This does not make sense and it is definitely not in the best interest of our students,” Compton said. “If the tough choice had been made a few years ago to repurpose two of our schools, the budget deficit would be much smaller and we would be having a different conversation right now.”

Compton’s sentiment to act quickly was echoed by many of the board members.

“This discussion has been going on quite a while and long-term Evergreen folks know that,” added Trustee Christopher Corpus. “It is now time to fish or cut bait.”

Corpus said that the move isn’t just about saving money — but rather better efficiency for students.

Board President Bonnie Mace said moving forward with the closures would demonstrate that the district is being responsible, but cautioned that the process be done smartly.

Mace questioned what would happen to the vacant school sites, and wondered whether the district had another use for them or if they could be leased out.

“I’m going to vote for the motion but with the strong recommendation that now is the time to consider the how which is just as important as the when,” Mace said.

Following the vote, officials said the board president and superintendent will meet again to discuss a transition plan and timeline for the school closures. It’s unclear when the schools will be selected. District leaders plan to bring more information to a future board meeting.

Contact Carina Woudenberg at carinaw86@gmail.com or follow @carinaew on Twitter.

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