What's All This Talk About School Consolidation?
DATE: February 23, 2018
TO: PEN Members and Friends
FROM: Nancy Rose Dufford, PEN Executive Director
UPDATE: On March 15, The PUSD Board of Education tabled the school consolidation conversation until more information can be gathered about ways to enhance revenue, attract more students, alternate use of facilities, and a more comprehensive framework and timelines for how and when any future decisions might be made.
The PEN Board and Staff thought it was important to keep you informed about what’s happening with School Consolidation, and to provide you with information about how you can get involved.
What’s PEN’s involvement with School Consolidation?
The superintendent and Board of Education asked for community, parent, and staff involvement on the School Consolidation Committee. I submitted an application, and was selected as one of two representatives for District 2, which is PUSD Board President Roy Boulghourjian’s district. I’m sure part of the reason he selected me is because of my role with PEN, our involvement with so many PUSD parents, and PEN’s belief that we need strong public schools that serve all children in order to be a strong community. I’ve also been through this before…twice! I was an active member of the School Consolidation Team in 2010, and before that I was involved with school closures when I was a PUSD parent. Plus, over the years, both PEN board and staff have taken an active role in reviewing enrollment and facilities data, and analyzing our own parent survey data about enrollment procedures, programs, and facilities.
Why is PUSD talking about School Consolidation?
The School Consolidation and Boundaries committee was created as a follow up to the Educational Master Planning Process that started in 2013. At that time, the Board of Education created a Master Planning sub-committee to look at right sizing the district so that all students would have access to robust academic programs and the supportive services that they need to be successful. Following that committee’s work, an expanded committee of parents, community stakeholders, and staff was convened to develop an Educational Master Plan that was to include among other things, “programs and services that every school should have.” I was on that committee. This Educational Master Plan was developed so that “instruction guides construction,” not the other way around. In other words, what is the vision for what we want academically for our students, and then what kind and how many facilities do we need to achieve that?
So what happened?
Because of the budget situation, the vision has faded to the background and the message has shifted away from how to provide students with what they need to how PUSD can cut costs. Although there may be some savings from school closures, I’ve approached this process with the original intent… how can we best provide excellent, rigorous, programs and services so all students can reach their potential.
Who was on the committee, and what was the process?
Each member of the Board of Education selected two people from their district. There was diverse representation from different parent groups, staff, and community members. The group met six times and reviewed various data points, more than 1,400 survey comments, school enrollment and capacity, and more. We also developed a set of core beliefs:
- The committee supports the consolidation of secondary schools over elementary schools. Elementary schools should be supported because they are the gateway into PUSD, healthier elementary programs are needed to feed secondary programs.
- The consolidation of secondary schools will yield more cost savings due to the size of the facilities, this will also result in larger student populations at the remaining schools which will naturally create more programmatic opportunity.
- The committee believes that the increased saturation of charter schools in Altadena has a detrimental impact to the community.
- The consolidation of an elementary facility will lead to a cascading reduction of enrollment at the secondary level.
- The committee strongly recommends the district should use vacated facilities or spaces to house existing programs in need of space before considering offers to outside entities
As you can guess we had differing views, perspectives, and opinions. But we did agree that fewer larger secondary schools would create more programmatic opportunities for students. Having more schools with fewer students causes resources to be spread thinly so all students don’t have equal access to excellent and varied programs and services.
Finally, we developed various scenarios for how the district could achieve the goal of more robust programs given the number of students currently enrolled in PUSD and projections for the future. We tried to think out of the box, and even suggested that K-6 and 7-12 schools might be an option. We didn’t flesh out this scenario because we didn’t know if the Board would even consider it, and we were up against a timeline for delivering our recommendations.
Did you talk about ways of increasing revenue rather than closing schools?
We were told that our job was to identify schools to consolidate. Alternate use and increasing revenue, as well as the option of moving staff from the Ed Center were outside of the scope of our work. This is unfortunate because what the district decides to do with a school site would definitely affect whether we would have considered it for closure.
What happens next?
The Board will have a study session on March 15 to discuss the committee recommendations and next steps. In my opinion, and I’m just guessing here, I would expect that the Board will want to know how these variations were developed, decide whether they agree with our assumptions, and start to discuss and evaluate the impact. Again, I’m just guessing here because I have no idea how the Board of Education will act. I would assume that the existing committee or another committee, possibly of the Board, will be tasked with whatever the Board decides that the next steps are. But, we all know what happens when we AssUMe, so your guess is as good as mine!
What can we, as parents, do?
Let your voice be heard! If you want to advocate on behalf of your school, if you want to advocate for fewer larger schools, or if you have any other options to suggest, speak up. Organize with like-minded people, gather data to support your position, and then make your case during the public comment portion of the Board of Education meetings or contact your board member. And, by all means, attend the Study Session on March 15.