Low enrollment numbers may force school closure

School district officials focused on boosting enrollment for the district are considering the closure of Daniel Webster Elementary as one of several options, but said it probably would not occur before fall 2008, if at all.

In the last 10 years, the Jefferson Elementary School District’s enrollment has slumped from 8,075 students to 6,123 for a variety of reasons, most notably the absence of affordable housing in the area, officials said.

An enrollment committee, formed last January, will make a series of recommendations to the school board next month, Assistant Superintendent of Pupil Services Matteo Rizzo said.

The closure of Daniel Webster or its consolidation into Thomas Edison and Fernando Rivera schools is among the options being discussed, although officials said it was too early for parents to get concerned. Indeed, if the school board accepted a recommendation to close Daniel Webster, the district would use the rest of this school year and the next one before closing, Rizzo said.

“We’re also looking at other ideas and what’s possible and isn’t possible,” Rizzo said. “We want to give parents as many options as possible in K-8 elementary.”

Christopher Columbus and Colma elementary schools were closed in 2004, and many Christopher Columbus students went to Daniel Webster. Daniel Webster is K-6, and Thomas Edison is K-6, while Fernando Rivera is seventh and eighth grades.

“[Community members] really want us to have a long-range plan if enrollment continues to decline,” Superintendent Barbara Wilson said, noting that parents had said the Columbus and Colma closures had happened too quickly.

Melinda Dart, the co-president of the American Federation of Teachers Local 3267, said that in the past the school board has “very rarely acted” on the recommendations of committees.

“Really we have no idea whether they’ll act on the recommendations of the Enrollment Committee,” said Dart, who expressed displeasure with the school board’s discussing preliminary findings of the committee. “It’s very premature to worry about this closure yet because it’s really just one of many options.”

Among other options, the committee is also looking at expanding the district’s preschool program to try and boost student numbers in the north county district, committee member Leah Berlanga said.

“The earlier you get the parents involved and kids establish relationships with other kids, they take ownership of the school and their community,” Berlanga said.

She said one of the reasons families leave the district is the “uncertainty of which schools are closing” and “disgust” with changes. “You’re going to see many cuts in upper management before you see another school closed,” Berlangasaid.

The Enrollment Committee meets next on Thursday, Dec. 14 in the District Board Room, 101 Lincoln Ave. in Daly City.

dsmith@examiner.com

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