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Eureka District temporarily shelves school closure plan

Unforeseen costs a concern
By: Nathan Donato-Weinstein The Press-Tribune
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The Eureka Union School District officially hit the pause button on a major reconfiguration plan approved last year that would have closed three schools and dramatically adjusted the grade configuration of remaining sites. Trustees at a lengthy meeting Tuesday voted to suspend the plan and work on a revision, blaming unforeseen costs associated with implementation. They also took no action on a proposed alternative, part of which would have shifted some students at Greenhills Elementary to different schools. The plan caused a furor in the Greenhills community, and about 150 parents showed up to voice their opposition. Officials said they needed to adjust their approach after learning the now-scrapped plan would cost $3.6 million – and perhaps much more – to enact. “It would be exhausting our facilities funds that were built up over years to save some operating expenses,” said Ron Feist, the district’s former superintendent who is now a consultant on the project. The news is the latest wrinkle in the district’s ongoing struggle to prepare for the financial double-whammy of the state budget crisis and reduced funding because of fewer students enrolling. The district had approved permanently closing schools to cope with the crisis beginning next year, then changed which schools to close a few months later. The plan was to save about $900,000 a year. Then last week, district staff proposed again changing the plan to keep one of the three schools slated for closure – Maidu – open. They also proposed making K-3 Greenhills School a K-4 campus, with its fifth- and sixth-graders sent to different sites. That infuriated many Greenhills parents, who said they were concerned about their children being split from friends. They also said their school was being asked to shoulder a larger burden of the reconfiguration plan. The news left some parents feeling whiplash. “It’s pretty shocking no one had these architects out there before they put all of us through this emotional process,” said Greenhills parent Jessica Matthews. “We all kind of wrapped our minds around it.” “Plan A gave us time to prepare ourselves,” said Rhonda Law, a parent of children at Greenhills and Eureka. “At this point, there is no time to build the confidence.” But trustees said they needed more information before acting on any alternative. On Tuesday, they approved establishing a committee comprised of two members from each school site to provide input on potential changes. They also gave district staff the green light to begin a new facilities master plan that will outline a long-term strategy for student housing needs. But officials say they will need to make any decision rapidly – and that it is still likely to affect students. “There’s going to be certain children at certain school sites that are going to be more affected than others,” trustee Lori Dangberg said. Officials hope to have an alternative plan in place in the next few months.