Faced with a deficit of more than $ 3 million, the Trustees of the Alum Rock Union School District unanimously voted to close Clyde L. Fischer Middle School and Lee Mathson Middle School early in the 2021-22 school year.
The resolution came from Superintendent Hilaria Bauer who said student enrollment in schools is expected to decrease by 50% by 2027. She described the closings as “in the best interests of the district community”. Around 8,800 students are enrolled in the district’s 24 schools.
Closing the schools and merging them with the Renaissance Academy, which operates on both the Fischer and Mathson campuses, was the only choice on the table at Thursday’s trustees meeting. The Renaissance curriculum places an emphasis on art, science, and social justice.
Fischer Middle School has 229 students, 294 of whom attend the Renaissance Academy. There are now 214 students attending Mathson Middle School and 276 the Renaissance Academy.
The trustees decided to allow students to enroll on each district campus once both middle schools are closed.
“Personally, I have not signed up to close websites,” said board vice president Andres Quintero. “The option we looked at was something we came to terms with.”
The Alum Rock Union school district must take steps to remain financially liquid and the decision is unpopular with parents. Closing and consolidating middle schools could save the district $ 700,000 annually.
While the Alum Rock Board of Trustees set up a facility conversion advisory body made up of parents and educators to identify free campus space that could be used for conversion, Bauer finally decided the plan to close the two schools. Mathson and Fischer were on a list of schools the board was considering for closure.
The committee also discussed proposals for renting the empty rooms and spaces at both locations. Suggestions include a community garden for educational purposes, as well as courses for adults and a daycare center.
The trustees made no decision on the advisory board’s proposals, and details of the school closings were sparse – no word about what impact the decision will have on faculty and staff, nor what rooms will be rented for how much.
“It generates income. How much I have no idea, ”said Jocelyn Merz, President of the Alum Rock Educators Association and member of the Advisory Board.
CEO Corina Herrera-Loera said that vacant rooms that are close to each other should be prioritized for renting in order to avoid a dispersion of tenants among school children.
Although details of potential staff and faculty cuts have not yet been released, Merz said she will meet with Bauer’s office on Monday for more information.
“There are only all kinds of hearsay,” said Merz. “It’s a challenge because our teachers were challenged enough because they didn’t know what the plan was for schools to reopen. That brings another curveball into the mix. “
According to the enrollment data compiled by the advisory board, enrollment for district projects will decrease to 6,600 students across the district by 2027, compared to 12,500 students in the 2011/12 school year.
Herrera-Loera said parents have a choice of sending their children to the Renaissance Academy.
Although the district projects will save nearly $ 1 million by closing the two middle schools, the funds will not be enough to meet the remaining budget deficit.
The district has had financial troubles in the past, most recently when the Santa Clara County’s grand jury found in 2018 that board members approving multi-million dollar contracts with construction company Del Terra had lost track of funds.
In the worst case scenario, trustees could try to get a government loan to help make up the deficit, but this was not seen as a viable option. If so, the State Board of Education would hire a trustee to oversee the San Jose District until the loan is repaid.
The board has not identified any other cost-saving measures to keep budget spending from falling into the red, but Quinteros said further discussions will take place.
“There is a significant loophole,” he said. “So we have to get creative about how we can fix the deficit.”
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.