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New Times / News

The following article was posted on February 21st, 2013, in the New Times - Volume 27, Issue 30 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from New Times [] - Volume 27, Issue 30

Public ire grounds school closure

By Patrick M. Klemz

Ed. note: This article was changed on Feb. 21 to fix an error that occurred when it was uploaded to the internet.

A popular accelerated elementary school program will remain open for now, but with limited enrollment in the coming year. That was the temporary cost-saving action taken by the board of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District on Feb. 19 during a packed meeting at Laguna Middle School.

The board of trustees originally planned to discuss closing Teach Elementary altogether, but a furious response from parents prompted Superintendent Eric Prater to suspend his initial recommendation. The new plan Prater brought to the meeting called for an enrollment moratorium and a reduction in classroom space from five to four.

A proposal to stop enrollment at Teach Elementary drew a cafeteria full of emotional parents to the Feb. 19 San Luis Coastal board meeting.
Teach Elementary serves 155 gifted fourth- through sixth-grade students with advanced classes and special courses.

“I would be the first to admit and say that my recommendation is far from perfect,” Prater told an anxious and audibly emotional crowd.

The scaled-back recommendation hardly satisfied the crowd of parents demanding that the board not meddle with Teach Elementary at all. Helen Sipsas, the parent who started the anti-closure petition that reportedly now has 735 signatures, saw the moratorium as a surreptitious way to phase out the school over a period of three years.

“I find that incredibly disappointing,” she told the board.

In the end, the board voted 7-0 to take the enrollment moratorium off the table until the district officials get the opportunity to reexamine the program.

Despite this outcome, the district has made it no secret that it may end up closing the school anyway. San Luis Coastal faces a formidable $6 million budget deficit that surfaced when the State of California withheld $4.4 million in state funding. Meanwhile, the federal government also significantly reduced its annual allocation for special education programs.

However, the arguments made against Teach Elementary haven’t been exclusively fiscal. Admission to the program requires applicants to register for a lottery—conferring a sort of selective benefit—and the school also takes classroom space away from Bishop’s Peak Elementary. District officials have cited these factors as potential reasons to close Teach Elementary before cutting resources available to all students.

The Feb. 19 meeting became heated at times. Board president Walter Miller even called a recess during public comment when one speaker refused to yield the podium after his three minutes expired. Earlier, Miller cut the microphone on another filibustering commenter, drawing a chorus of boos from the crowd of parents.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not World Wrestling Federation,” Miller responded.