SFUSD tries to avoid closures

Although The City’s public school district — grappling with declining enrollment — is trying toput school closure decisions on hold for this year, some school mergers may be inevitable.

“I think at this time the discussion is focused on collocating and not closing or merging schools,” district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

For the last six years, enrollments have been declining in San Francisco’s public schools and will continue to drop through 2011, according to a demographic study done for the district.

Directed by the school board, the district is working on a long-range plan to deal with the loss of students — which results in a corresponding loss of state per-pupil funding.

This year, about 1,000 fewer students were enrolled in district schools, adding up to a loss of approximately $5.5 million for the district.

School board member Jill Wynns called talk of a school closure hiatus “misleading,” because district staff said there are certain circumstances that would force the board’s hand.

Proposals to collocate two or more schools on one campus, which is different from merging them into one school community, are likely since, by law, the district is required to offer facilities to charter schools that ask for a site.

San Francisco’s school district has received requests for school sites for five existing charter schools, and may also be obligated to provide sites for three other charter schools, if they receive board approval to open those schools: a high school proposed for the Bayview, a technology-focused middle school pitched by an organization that has already opened a similar school in Oakland, and a Russian-language-focused elementary school.

The district will likely place some of the charter schools on campuses with low enrollment, Blythe said. The board is expected to begin the decision-making process of where to move schools this month, she said.

School board member Eric Mar said school board members are already hearing that the district will be facing a “huge deficit” next year, so he doesn’t believe it’s fiscally smart to take possible school closures off the table this year.

“I don’t think we should tie our hands by saying no closures or mergers,” Mar said. “We need every possible tool to balance the budget.”

With the district’s long-range enrollment recommendations due to be completed in the spring of 2007, district staff members have suggested that the board could hold off on additional school closure or merger decisions until summer, which would become effective for the 2008-09 school year, Blythe said.

Dream Schools’ homes under review

As a result of declining enrollment, San Francisco’s school board may also be asked to reconfigure the district’s original three Dream Schools in Bayview-Hunters Point, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

The Dream School program sought to boost academic achievement through longer school hours, a uniform requirement, more resources, extracurricular activities and mostly new staff.

While all three schools saw improvement in their overall academic test scores during the last two years, enrollment has declined at the three southeast sector schools. District officials have blamed the declining enrollment on grade configurations for each school that don’t match the other district schools.

Charles Drew Elementary only enrolls students from pre-K to third grade, and Willie Brown Elementary takes students from grades four to six — unlike traditional elementary schools, which run from kindergarten to fifth grade. Gloria R. Davis Middle School was expected to enroll students from grades seven to 12. The grade levels made it hard for parents to transfer kids from a Dream School or to one.

The school district plans community meetings, but one plan discussed is to move students off of the one-third filled Davis campus to the Willie Brown campus, which is also underenrolled.

The school board is slated to review the Dream School configuration ideas Dec. 12.

beslinger@examiner.com

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