East Bay News

Closing school may cost more than keeping it open

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

One school district in the East Bay is facing an unusual budget dilemma. They are going to wind up spending a lot, to close a school, just to save a little money.

The school board voted to close Shannon Elementary School back in 2009 as part of a larger cost-cutting effort. Now, several board members say they have some new information and they may want to reverse that decision, but they're finding they can't.

"I strongly believe that this is an irresponsible decision," said West Contra Costa School Board President Charles Ramsey.

That's how Ramsey characterizes a decision to close Pinole's Shannon Elementary School.

"Two years ago when we voted to do this, we believed we were going to save $300,000 per year immediately. And now we're finding out that the savings won't accrue for five years and we think that's irresponsible and it shouldn't happen," said Ramsey.

In February 2009, Shannon was one of eight schools the board voted to close over a period of years. Three of those schools have closed and according to district staff, West Contra Costa has saved about $3 million so far, but other campuses had space to absorb those students. That's not the case with Shannon. By the district's own estimates, it will cost at least $1.5 million up front to buy and build portables and retrofit three other schools to accommodate Shannon's 300 students.

"The argument is now that it will take three to five to eight years, depending upon what the numbers actually play out to, to recoup the costs, but we actually only budget for three years," said Madeline Kronenberg from the West Contra Costa School board.

So why doesn't the school board reverse its decision? West Contra Costa has been under the control of a state trustee since 1990, when it took a loan from the state to avoid bankruptcy. Ramsey claims current trustee Linda Grundhoffer has rejected all efforts to re-open the discussion on the Shannon closure.

"This is part of the fallout from the bankruptcy from 20 years ago. The board doesn't have absolute authority to take action when they see a decision that is flawed," said Ramsey.

"I don't understand it. They're going to have to put portables onto the new schools to accommodate all the kids and where does the value of the kids' education go?" said parent Heather Hernandez.

ABC7 did try to reach the state trustee, Grundhoffer, to get her response to the board's claims that she won't reopen this issue of closing Shannon, but so far there has been no response.

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Tags:
pinole, school closures, east bay news, laura anthony
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