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School closure discussed; not expected

In talks, the facilities committee mentioned Ladd Lane is a possible school for closure because it has high electricity costs since it the buildings are air conditioned. The committee will present a report to school trustees this month, but is not likely

Facilities committee to make recommendations to HSD board at the
end of this month
Facilities committee to make recommendations to HSD board at the end of this month

The potential closure of a local elementary or middle school has been discussed by a facilities committee but is not expected to be recommended to the Hollister School District Board of Trustees later this month, according to a district official.

Jack Bachofer, the district’s chief business official, this week said ballpark estimates of savings from closing a school range in the $300,000 to $400,000 range, though those numbers could be less as schools impacted by higher enrollment caused by a closure would likely have to take on more staff, thus reducing the potential savings.

“The savings come from site administrators, office staff and custodians,” he said. “However, teachers would move with the kids to a new school” and therefore wouldn’t create payroll savings for the district. “Is $300,000 significant enough to have staff and community commotion? Is it worth that kind of upheaval?”

HSD faced a budget gap of $5.4 million in December 2010, when it eliminated various positions – such as computer and library staff – and negotiated savings from certificated and classified bargaining units. It also recently voted last week to eliminate bus service for all but special education and migrant summer education program students.

“The facility issue took the back burner at that time,” Bachofer said, “but the district is taking a look at it again.”

Participation on the facilities committee was open to all principals, directors, union members and others with a stake in budget decisions, he said, and about a dozen or so people have regularly participated in discussions.

Throughout the process, various schools have been floated as being targets of closure, such as Calaveras – when it had the lowest enrollment, which is no longer the case – and Ladd Lane, which had the highest electricity costs because it has air conditioning. Marguerite Maze Middle School was also brought up because its counterpart, Rancho San Justo, previously served as the city’s only middle school.

Though the committee believes there would be savings from closing a school, Bachofer noted that new costs would likely be incurred, such as the need for a vice principal, more custodians and extra counselors at a suddenly larger school.

“If you close a school to achieve costs savings, what would actually happen?” he said. “It’s a huge decision that needs community input.”

The facilities committee is scheduled to meet Feb. 13 from 3-5 p.m. at the district offices on Union Road and is slated to present its report at the school board’s regular meeting on Feb. 28.

A recommendation for closing a school, Bachofer said, “is not probable.”

“It’s been a while since the board members have had information brought before them (regarding possible school closures), so what conclusion they’ll make, I’m not sure. We’re trying to come up with more information so that by the end of our meeting on Feb. 13 we’ll know what the facilities group wants to recommend to the board. One of the probable recommendations is that there would be an ongoing facilities committee spearheaded by the superintendent.”

An improving budget picture prompted Bachofer to call the district’s current fiscal situation “OK,” since anticipated mid-year cuts of $250 per student based on average daily attendance (ADA) actually ended up being $12.50 per student.

“We are OK in terms of right now with our multi-year projections, including a 3 percent reserve for economic uncertainty,” the minimum the state requires of its school districts, he said.

If Gov. Jerry Brown’s ballot measure to increase taxes passes in November, school funding would remain flat – “that’s the best-case scenario,” Bachofer said. “If not, we’re looking at a $370 cut per ADA mid-year in 2012-2013.”

School officials throughout the state have said that the lack of funding in that scenario could force school districts to reduce their academic year by up to three weeks next year.