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Paso continues waiting on school-closure decision 

Paso Robles' school district is delaying its final decision on the possible closure of Georgia Brown Elementary School to early 2022, leaving several students and their families waiting for more than a year since the proposal was first announced.

The elementary school is a transitional K-5 with a dual-immersion program that community members said served scores of students from lower-income and Spanish-speaking families.

click to enlarge DELAYED DECISION Community members expected Paso Robles Joint Unified School District to declare its final decision on Georgia Brown Elementary School's possible closure by Dec. 14, but officials are now aiming for February 2022. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • DELAYED DECISION Community members expected Paso Robles Joint Unified School District to declare its final decision on Georgia Brown Elementary School's possible closure by Dec. 14, but officials are now aiming for February 2022.

"As a former Bearcat alumni ... who knows many of these families, I know for a fact that closing down the Georgia Brown school is going to hurt Hispanic families, bottom line," said Paso People's Action co-founder Yessenia Echevarria.

The Paso Robles Joint Unified School District received a report from an advisory group called the 7-11 Committee, which evaluated surplus property for closure and sale to mitigate the district's financial problems. According to previous New Times reporting, the committee voted on Sept. 21, 2020, to recommend closing the Georgia Brown Elementary School.

At a community meeting in Flamson Middle School on Nov. 10, district Superintendent Curt Dubost said that the elementary school's dual-immersion program would be transferred to another site. He insisted that the board hasn't finalized its decision yet, but community members like Echevarria believe it's already been decided.

"We are now seeing 'community input' when we're pretty much in the last phase of this 'decision.' It seems to me that the decision had already been made [to close the school]," she said.

The Nov. 10 meeting was meant for students and families living within district boundaries to air their concerns about the possible school closure. Dubost said that the goal was to present the advantages and disadvantages of the alternative options if Georgia Brown is shuttered.

Echevarria added that the meeting was planned hurriedly, and families were only given eight days' notice. Community members couldn't virtually tune in to the discussion as they usually would for school board meetings—they had to be physically present to give public comment, and Yessenia said no child care options were provided during the evening meeting.

A Spanish version of the meeting also took place an hour later, and Glen Speck Elementary School teacher Kristin Usilton told New Times that it had its own share of problems.

"The Spanish meeting wasn't the same as the English meeting, it almost felt like they were dumbing it down for the Mexican families. When they sent the Mexican families into small groups ... instead of all of the community having time for public comment, they made all of them write down their opinions on poster paper," Usilton said. "The district said they were going to collect the posters and reassess the options based on the public comment, but it's frustrating because they didn't let the community truly speak."

Theresa Braden, the executive secretary to the superintendent, mentioned that the focus committee and the dual-immersion school principal thought a separate meeting in Spanish would make Spanish-speaking families more comfortable.

"We don't believe the meeting was diluted. Our certified translator had reviewed the material ahead of time and was prepared. At times it can be difficult to translate some terms and abbreviations related to school district business, so we were cautious not to use unfamiliar terms. We stuck to the facts and delivered a free flow and clear understanding of the information," Braden said. "We also were asked by the principals at the tables with the most parents present to reduce the introductory comments, to give the parents more time to discuss options and ask questions. The comment was they wanted to be heard, not hear more from us."

Assistant Superintendent Brad Pawlowski presented two options to community members if Georgia Brown closed. The dual-immersion program would either be moved to Glen Speck Elementary School or to Winifred Pifer Elementary School.

But Echevarria and Usilton said that neither of these options was viable because the school district doesn't have an effective bus system, forcing displaced students and their families to pay to cover the long distance.

The meeting concluded with attendees breaking out into groups to discuss their concerns with the respective school principals. Dubost and Pawlowski didn't announce when the decision about the closure would be declared. But Braden wrote in an email to New Times that "the plan is for the board to be able to make a decision by the second meeting in February 2022." Δ

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