The Vanguard has a new home, please update your bookmarks to

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

3-2 Vote Moves Valley Oak Officially to the Chopping Block with only a Small Reprieve

The day began with a show of force--the force of dozens of small school children laughing and screaming in the hopes of saving their school as they slowly marched from Valley Oak Elementary School to Council Chambers. It was a distance of nearly a mile and remarkably it seemed to take 45 to 50 minutes for their small legs to cross the distance.

They were hopeful and anxious, but soon enough that joy and anticipation turned into stone cold reality.

It was a night where the fate seemed sealed rather early on. In fact, most of the way through the staff presentation and question and answers, Ginny Davis, one of the assistants to the superintendent, made the comment that the staff was not making a recommendation to close Valley Oak this evening, a proclamation that induced a number of hearty laughs because from the very beginning it seemed that staff had in fact been a very heavy lean toward closing Valley Oak Elementary School and if they were not overtly recommending it, they stopped just shy of such a recommendation.

Superintendent Richard Whitmore gave a presentation in which he made a strong case that the district could close Valley Oak by 2007, however, in the end that seemed too liberal an estimate even for the majority on this board. And it would save enough money for the district given not only closing costs, but also a $50 to $75 thousand dollar consultant cost in addition to simply retaining all of the certificated staff (i.e. the teachers) and moving them from one location to another. So the costs would be heavy and the savings rather light in 2007-08.

One exchange in particular kind of summed up how this evening would go--Board Member Tim Taylor would mention that there were differing interpretations of the enrollment projections and he asked Mr. Whitmore which he should believe. Mr. Whitmore pointedly said that none of the staff were demographers, but that the Task Force had worked long and hard with the demographic data and he would tend to take their findings strongly into account.

By the time, the board went around the room and spoke, it was fait accompli. First, Board Member Keltie Jones somewhat tearfully suggested she had no choice but to close the school. Gina Daleiden followed suit. And then after a long and vigorous defense by Sheila Allen, Tim Taylor made it clear that this would be a 3-2 vote in favor of closure. They cited the report by the Task Force, they praised the work of the task force, they said this was the toughest decision that they had to make and that no one had gone onto the board believing that they would close an elementary school.

Jim Provenza introduced a substitute motion that would forestall the decision until the fall when they had the new enrollment data, and while Sheila Allen joined him, it failed by a 3-2 vote. Provenza argued that there was no immediate fiscal crisis and that this school was working and that the EL program at Valley Oak was exemplary.

This argument was countered by staff that argued that they could make the program work well wherever it moved and by the board majority who argued that this was about programs not facilities and that they could have successful programs regardless of where. The counter-argument that these are assumptions seemed to fall on deaf ears. The most vulnerable students in this district are being moved based on beliefs and assumptions by staff and trustees and not based on the actual knowledge that they can simply move a program from one school to another. We simply do not know.

In the end though, it seemed that the board, or at least Tim Taylor, while believing nine schools was unfair to the other eight, fiscally irresponsible, and unsupported by the demographic data, could not deliver the final death knell. He offered a massive motion which would do the following:

1. Open Korematsu as a K-2 school for 07-08.
2. Keep Valley Oak open in 07-08
3. Open Korematsu as a K-6 school in fall of '08
4. Close Valley Oak in fall of '08
5. Place on the ballot a second parcel tax to fund Valley Oak in November of 2007 provided that the first parcel tax passed.

This was too much for Keltie Jones who pushed hard and was very fearful a second tax bill would doom their first. She got Taylor to water down even the compromise language so that a poll would be taken and the second parcel tax would be put on the ballot only if it wasn't going to doom the first. Now perhaps what Jones was forgetting is that by putting them both on there and tying the fate of Valley Oak to the first parcel tax, they are in essence recruiting 50 to 100 dedicated parents who have a vested interest in doing the grass roots work to get them both passed. If only the first parcel tax were on the ballot--none of those folks would work to get it placed on the ballot. So in actuality it might be more likely to pass because it is tied to Valley Oak than if it were not.

The final passage was 3-2--giving the parents at Valley Oak a glimmer of hope amid a huge valley of despair. At just after 1 am, the fate seem cast officially. A mix of anger, frustration, sadness, and exhaustion seemed to grip the people. And through it all, the folks at Valley Oak Elementary School still do not know their fate for sure, but somehow they managed to not die enough to perhaps muster the will and determination to fight another day.

---Doug Paul Davis reporting