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Facing budget cuts and declining enrollment, Ravenswood will shutter two elementary schools

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The Ravenswood City School District will close two of its five elementary schools for the 2020-21 school year in the face of budget cuts and declining enrollment. The district board has not yet determined specifically which schools to shutter and will have to decide between Belle Haven Community School, Brentwood Academy, Costaño School, Los Robles Ronald McNair Academy and Willow Oaks School.

“We can hold 570 students in most of our schools, and right now, for each site we’re at around 280 average,” interim superintendent Gina Sudaria said. “We are spreading our resources across five elementary schools when we only have enough money for three.”

Despite these changes, Sudaria told The Daily that there “shouldn’t be any reduction in teachers.” Instead, the district will need to find its savings from support stuff like “a site administrator, an office staff person, maybe a custodian, maybe one supervisor. There is going to be some loss.” 

The district board said in a meeting on Oct. 29 that they must make $2.3 million of budget cuts over the next two years to remain financially stable, according to the Palo Alto Daily Post. Sudaria estimates that between personnel and utilities, closing two elementary schools will lead to $880,000 in savings.

The surplus property remaining after the two elementary schools are closed will likely be repurposed as part of the transition.

“The goal is to be able to bring in revenue,” Sudaria said.

Spanning from East Palo Alto to east Menlo Park, Ravenswood schools have faced a slew of recent challenges. In February 2018, the district board just avoided state takeover by making $5.8 million in budget cuts, including the elimination of 83 jobs. In March 2019, then-superintendent Gloria Hernandez-Goff resigned after coming up against criticism from the district board and petitions for her removal.

Rapidly decreasing enrollment is the root cause of many of the district’s issues, according to Sudaria. 20 years ago, enrollment was at 5,000 students — today, enrollment is just over 2,000, a 60% decrease. It’s created a heavy financial burden for Ravenswood schools, given that state funding for public schools is proportional to enrollment.

“In my personal opinion, the biggest reason for the need for these cuts is a systemic issue in how schools are inequitably funded to begin with,” said Ravenswood District Board Vice President Stephanie Fitch. “Besides that, there are the increasing costs of living that make it especially difficult for families to stay here.” 

Besides nearby charter schools and private schools diverting enrollment, Fitch also pointed to the Voluntary Transfer Program as a reason for lower enrollment — and thus less funding. Sudaria estimated that there are 1,500 local students in the program, which allows families in the Ravenswood district to choose to send their students to school districts in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Portola Valley, and Woodside.

The exact details of the closures have not been finalized, and the district board still seeks community feedback. The board will continue deliberations throughout November regarding which schools will be shuttered and how the transition process will be carried out. The final decision will likely be announced in December, according to the Palo Alto Daily Post. 

Despite recent turmoil, the district board remains optimistic.

“Our teachers will more easily be able to collaborate and share best practices with one another. Our families will have more opportunities to get to know one another and support each other,” Fitch said.

“One could look at it as a crisis,” Sudaria said. “I look at it as an opportunity to create three phenomenal schools. We want to create phenomenal schools where we attract our families back; we change the mindset of families considering leaving to stay and new families that enter into East Palo Alto and east Menlo Park.

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the Voluntary Transfer Program allows students to transfer to multiple school districts besides Palo Alto Unified School District.

Contact Jonathan Ko at jonathanko ‘at’ stanford.edu.