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Sacramento Bee - Online, The

Oct 30, 12:00 AM

School closures, enrollment losses are top concerns in Sacramento City Unified Area 3 race

Potential school closures, declining enrollment and how to best move schools forward are among the issues raised by three candidates running for the Sacramento City Unified School District board in Area 3, which represents parts of Rancho Cordova, Rosemont and College Greens neighborhoods. Declining enrollment in the Sacramento City district over the past decade has spurred conversations about school closures. Since the 2001-2002 school year, the district's enrollment is down 10 percent. Schools in Area 3 saw a similar drop overall; however, several schools saw much higher declines. Rosemont High's enrollment declined 24 percent since its high of 1,900 students in 2007-2008 to 1,445 students last school year, state data show. Hubert Bancroft, A.M. Winn and James Marshall elementary schools each saw declines of more than 30 percent in student enrollment between the 2001-2002 school year and last school year. In Area 3, candidates Mark Ambrose, Christina Pritchett and Eric Sunderland said the declining enrollment has to be addressed. Ambrose, an attorney, said Rosemont High needs Advanced Placement courses and programs to attract and retain students. "I've met with hundreds of parents in College Greens and Rosemont, and this is a huge issue. Many parents decide to go to other schools outside our area, because they see the test scores." Pritchett has been a volunteer "from elementary to high school" as a PTA president. "We need to make our schools more appealing, especially at the high school and junior high level," Pritchett said. "We need to offer more programs, and they are starting to do that. We need to get the word out to parents on what we are offering." Sunderland, the head gardener at SMUD, said his background as an organizer is needed. He said students are leaving because of "competing programs in other districts and some of it is losses due to parents putting their children in home schooling, which has to do with the quality of what we are offering in the classroom." Last year, A.M. Winn Elementary was considered for closure by Sacramento City trustees, prompting concerns from Area 3 residents. The school escaped closure after community members protested and raised safety concerns about students crossing busy roads to get to their new schools. After considering three elementary school closures and one consolidation, Sacramento City trustees voted last year to close one, Freeport Elementary in Meadowview, and consolidate two other schools. In doing so, many trustees acknowledged that the school closure conversation is likely to resurface in the cash-strapped district. Sunderland said the district needs to be mindful of whether it will lose students when closing campuses that are ultimately turned into charter schools. "We need to be cautious when we close schools," Sunderland said. "We need to project for future growth. Budgetarily, we need to close them, but we need to reserve the properties for the future." Pritchett said school closures should be a last resort. "But, if it comes to a point where it has to be done, I would do my homework and visit all the schools on the closure list. As a board member, you should go to those schools and find out the effects, not just in your area." Ambrose said he understands that school closures are a sensitive issue, but they may be needed. "If the budget continues how it is, we will have to address it and make serious cuts," Ambrose said. "That's why we need to look at attracting students back to our schools." The Area 3 race is one of two contested seats on the Nov. 6 ballot. Incumbent Patrick Kennedy is running against substitute teacher Ralph Merletti in Area 7, which includes Oak Park and Hollywood Park. Incumbents Diana Rodriguez in Area 5 and Gustovo Arroyo in Area 4 extended their terms after they were not challenged.

Tags: elected officials

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