Scenic supporters defend school, urge it stay open

Jessica Downing-Ford enrolled her son in Scenic Elementary when she fell in love with the small Redlands school four years ago.

Now she wonders whether her son will spend his fifth-grade year with his friends or at a school closer to his home where he doesn’t know anyone.

Downing-Ford and more than 100 other parents and current or former Scenic teachers filled the Basil T. Knight Center on Tuesday during a school board meeting and asked the board to keep the school open.  Rumors that Scenic might close in 2012-13, if the board needs to make further budget cuts, surfaced after Scenic’s principal, Doug Levinson, sent a letter to parents two weeks ago saying closure was a possibility.

District 51 Executive Director of Support Services Melissa Callahan DeVita told the board Tuesday the district will analyze the financial impact closing a school would have for the district. She said the district may host community meetings to gather input on the subject as soon as September.

DeVita said earlier this month Scenic and Broadway are the most likely candidates for closure if the district does decide to shutter a school because enrollment is declining at Redlands elementary schools. Wingate Elementary has the largest population among the three elementary schools in that area, and it would be difficult for other schools to take on all those students, DeVita said.

A school closure may seem extreme, but Superintendent Steve Schultz said there’s no more “fluff” to cut after slicing $10.5 million from the district budget last year and another $13.6 million for the coming school year. Schultz said he sent his own children to Scenic and he can sympathize with parents concerned about the school, but he said it’s important for the district to plan ahead by at least examining what the district would save by closing a school.

“The governor’s office is predicting the 2012-13 budget could have cuts as large as this year. We are in a funding crisis,” Schultz said. “We aren’t going to over-react but we’d be remiss if we didn’t plan for the worst and hope for the best.”

Some Scenic supporters doubt closing a school would save the district much money, including Scenic parent David Mueller.

“It just seems to me, dollar- and cents-wise, costs are going to be the same or better to embark on construction to fit students into other schools,” Mueller said.

Transporting students to other schools will also cost the district money, according to Scenic parent Jami Fletcher. In addition, there would be a cost to the community if the high-performing school closed, according to former Scenic teacher Nancy Anson.

“Good schools are absolutely fundamental not just for this area but the state and the nation,” she said. “It’s important to keep our schools, all of our schools, open because the population will increase again.”

School board member Diann Rice, whose district includes Scenic, said she empathizes with those who want the school to remain open. If the budget does call for a school closure, though, she said she hopes the board can make that decision as soon as possible so parents, students and staff can have more time to prepare for a transition.

Rice said it was hard to make the decision this year to close a different school, Glade Park Elementary. But the school will likely remain open this fall because the board approved a charter for the school Tuesday.

Glade Park may open as a charter school as soon as this August. The same month, the school is required to submit a contract to the district that would outline which services the school will get from the district and what the school will pay for those services.


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