RICHMOND — In front of an angry audience that approached 1,000 people Wednesday night, the West Contra Costa school board voted to close four campuses next school year and defer closure of a fifth while the district tries to come up with a way to save it amid a sagging budget.
The school board approved the closure of Lake Elementary in San Pablo, Castro Elementary in El Cerrito, Adams Middle in unincorporated Richmond, and El Sobrante Elementary in El Sobrante. The board deferred closure of Shannon Elementary in Pinole until the following school year to see if there is another way to keep it open.
The decision came before a largely hostile crowd packed into the Richmond Civic Center auditorium. There were a few cheers, plenty of booing, and chants of "Save our schools" interrupted the meeting several times. Prior to the meeting, hundreds gathered outside the hall to protest the closures.
"We are very upset and are very depressed," said Nancie Rouse, a special-needs teacher at El Sobrante Elementary, one of the shuttered schools. "It's going to be devastating for my kids."
El Sobrante sixth-grader Lydia LeMaire worried for the future of other students who will be affected by the closures.
"I'm graduating this year, but I'm worried about my sister," she said. "She might get split up from her friends and she's really shy."
Kennedy High and Olinda and Grant elementaries — originally recommended for closure — will remain open for the next two years, thanks to $1.5 million promised to the district by the City of Richmond. City of San Pablo officials have said they plan to discuss whether to give money to keep Lake open as well. The issue will be discussed at a city council meeting next week.
The closures are part of a massive consolidation plan that will affect just about every student in the 30,000-student district and also calls for shuttering Gompers and North Campus continuation high schools, two adult campuses, a furniture warehouse and some district offices. Estimated total savings are $18.6 million over the next five years.
Mira Vista Elementary in East Richmond Heights would be changed into a kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school to offset the closure of Adams, while Chavez, Wilson, Coronado, King, Lincoln, Nystrom, Dover and Stege elementaries would be turned into kindergarten-through-sixth-grade schools.
The district is facing a huge deficit this year and next and Superintendent Bruce Harter had recommended closing as many underenrolled and worn-down schools as possible to help offset costs. Closing an elementary saves the district an estimated $300,000, while closing a middle school saves about $800,000.
But board members opted to defer closing Shannon to ease the pain on the community.
"This has been a very difficult time for everybody on the board," said board members Madeline Kronenberg. "There is extra room in that budget."
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