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Superintendent tells parents school won't open until 2012

District cites low enrollment as reason for delay
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Roseville City School District Superintendent Richard Pierucci recently sent a letter to parents and guardians with an update: Barbara Chilton Middle School in west Roseville will open in August 2012. This news angered parents who expected the school to open this year. They’re upset that they pay taxes for this campus, while also paying transportation fees to bus their children to schools farther away from home. During the housing boom several years ago, west Roseville began to develop with subdivisions, shopping centers and roads. Some families moved to the area anticipating a middle school would be built a few years down the line. But then development slowed, along with the number of young families entering the neighborhood. Chilton Middle School, an 8,000-square-foot facility designed to serve 800 students, was completed in 2008. Chilton was built by developers, not the school district. For the $50.6 million school, the developer paid $33.7 million and the state ponied up $16.9 million. The campus sits west of Fiddyment Road, flanked by houses and not much else, near the city’s edge. “We simply do not have enough students to open Chilton in 2011,” Pierucci said, in his Jan. 28 letter. Generally, the target number of students for opening a new school is 300, he said. Currently, 176 sixth through eighth grade students reside in Chilton’s attendance area. St. John’s School leases the middle school under an agreement that extends through the 2011-12 school year. Originally, the lease was set to end prior to the upcoming academic year. But in August, the school board approved an extension. Either party may terminate this agreement with six months notice, said Julie Olson, assistant superintendent of business services. The lease states that St. John’s will pay the district $50,000 for the time period of July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011, Olson said. From July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2012, the school will pay the district $120,000. In a statement posted recently on the WestPark-Fiddyment Farm Neighborhood Association website, parent Aaron Herman expressed disappointment that the district didn’t solicit more parent feedback regarding the lease extension. Association board member Sue Cook said her group has received lots of response by residents concerned over the delayed middle school opening. But in his letter, Pierucci says the lease agreement with St. John’s doesn’t factor into the scheduled opening. Instead, he cites the low number of students that would attend the school and high operation costs. Next year, the district projects 211 middle schoolers in Chilton’s boundaries. Robert C. Cooley Middle School and Junction Elementary School “are very capable of accommodating the number of students projected to be enrolled in 2011-12,” Pierucci said. Located a half mile from Chilton Middle School, Junction Elementary School has 614 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, said Principal Carrie Vincent. Cooley Middle School, located three miles away, has 1,077 students in grades sixth through eighth, said Assistant Principal Todd Gladwill. The district plans to open Chilton in August 2012 with 256 projected fifth through seventh grade students. This grade configuration would last one year, as a new elementary school north of Blue Oaks Boulevard in west Roseville is scheduled to open in fall 2013. The price tag of opening a new school is about $300,000. These funds pay for staffing, including a principal, custodians and library specialists, along with books, physical education and science equipment, and other supplies. This cost presents a burden to the district, which has faced a $17 million reduction in state funds over the last three years. Gina Nielsen, president of the Junction Parent Teacher Club, said she understands that opening the school would unnecessarily leak money from an already strapped district. “Though it is disappointing the school opening is delayed yet another year, I think the district is acting fiscally responsible,” Nielsen said. “There simply are not enough students to open the school in 2011 … I feel for the superintendent. He’s in an impossible situation.” Nielsen, a mom of three children, doesn’t expect the new school to open before it’s feasible. “Serving as PTC president and being married to an educator, I don’t see where there is any other reasonable option,” she said. “Looking at the bright side, when Chilton does open, it will have such a small student population, the student-to-teacher ratio will be fantastic.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.