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Carol Kocivar / ON EDUCATION

School Closed

School Closure Checklist

• • • • • • • • March 21, 2024 • • • • • • • •

When the time has come, then what?

No one wants to close schools. Not the communities that cherish their local school. Not the school boards that want to serve the needs of all their students. Not administrators and school district personnel who have to wade through the intricacies of state law on how to close schools.

Unfortunately, declining enrollment and declining state funding are forcing school districts to make hard choices. As they wrestle with what to do, community leaders face the wrath of worried teachers and parents. Not to mention a thicket of complex laws and policies.

School closures are a fairly new challenge for most California school districts. For most of the state’s history, the problem has been how to cope with population growth, not decline. But here we are. Throughout the state, enrollment has already shrunk. The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) warns that this is just a taste of what is to come. In the decade ahead, student enrollment will shrink throughout the state. Districts that just kick the can down the road will face years of financial hardship and community discord.

Declining Enrollment
The School Closure Checklist

California law spells out the process for closing schools. It’s lengthy and complicated, with lots of issues that require facts, not guesses.

Both the California Department of Education (CDE) and the State Office of the Attorney General (OAG) have separately offered advice for the many districts that face school closures. This post combines their advice, along with some additional considerations for the role parent and student leaders can play. The structure of this post significantly follows the Best Practice Guide from the CDE.

  • Get the facts
  • Focus on equity
  • Consider schools to close
  • Make decisions
  • Make the transition
  • Use surplus property wisely

Each topic below contains a checklist you can use to become informed and engaged in discussions about school closures and consolidations in your school district.

Get the facts

Involve the Community

Closing or consolidating schools and selling school property is incredibly controversial. California law requires school districts to follow a process when deciding which schools to close and what to do with the surplus property.

The district should begin by appointing a District Advisory Committee. This is sometimes referred to as a 7-11 committee, referring to the size of the committee recommended by law. (Some school districts expand the membership beyond 11 when creating a school closure committee, but larger committees can be unwieldy.) This committee gathers data, holds public hearings, and makes recommendations to the school district. The core role of the district advisory committee is to get the facts and make recommendations.

Role of the District Advisory Committee

Gather data

Review enrollment and other data to determine the amount of surplus space and real property.

Make a list

Establish a priority list of use of surplus space and real property that will be acceptable to the community

Get feedback

Circulate the priority list and hold public hearings about acceptable uses of space and real property, including the sale or lease of surplus real property.

Determine the options

Make a final determination of suitable uses of space and real property.

Recommend a solution

Submit a report to the district governing board recommending uses of surplus space and real property.

Focus on Equity

Leaders of school districts in a financial crisis may feel they have to make quick decisions to stop the financial bleeding. Unfortunately, haste can lead to decisions that create inequitable outcomes.

Schools that serve Black students tend to be more frequently closed, especially in California. Research by Policy Analysis for California (PACE) documented that “Even after controlling for a range of factors, the odds of school closure increase by nearly 25 percent for every 10-percentage-point increase in the share of Black students.”

Schools that serve Black students tend to be the ones closed

Black School Closure

School-Closure Rates by Student Racial Composition, 2000–18, from Declining Enrollment, School Closures, and Equity Considerations by Carrie Hahnel and Francis A. Pearman, II

To head off hasty decisions about school closures, AB 1912, passed in 2021-22, requires school districts to slow down, get the facts, involve the community, and conduct an equity analysis. This process can help districts make equitable and cost effective decisions about school closures.

Consider schools to close

Don’t jump to conclusions.

Closing a school with declining enrollment is not necessarily the best choice. The school board should provide the school closure committee with a list of criteria to be examined, and share it at a regularly scheduled public board meeting so that the community can provide input. This list can help create an Equity Impact Analysis.

An Equity Impact Analysis must consider:

1.

Condition of school facility

2.

Operating cost of school and the associated savings resulting from a closure

3.

Capacity of a school to accommodate excess pupils

4.

Special programs at the schools considered for closure and whether those programs will be provided at the same current level at the schools to which pupils will be diverted

5.

Environmental factors e.g traffic and proximity to freeway access

6.

Balance of pupil demographics to determine if the decision to close or consolidate will have a disproportionate impact on any particular demographic group

7.

Transportation needs of pupils

8.

Aesthetics and the opportunity for blight and negative impact on the surrounding community

9.

Impact on feeder school attendance patterns.

In addition to requiring an equity analysis, school boards must follow laws that prohibit discrimination and support integrated schools.

The list below summarizes Anti Discrimination Mandates and guidance from the state Attorney General.

Anti Discrimination Mandates in school closures

Equal opportunity

Provide equal educational opportunity for students.

Watch for unequal access

Don’t allow any closure metric to be driven by unequal access to resources. Disproportionate and adverse impacts on students may be unlawful if they are not necessary to meet legitimate education goals or if there are comparable closure alternatives with less of a disproportionate impact.

Assess for impact and take corrective measures

Assess impact of closure and school siting decisions. Take “corrective measures to attempt to alleviate school segregation,” which may include addressing “open enrollment [or] changes in boundary lines of student attendance zones.

Alleviate racial imbalances

Take affirmative steps to alleviate racial imbalance however created when considering school closures.

No penalties

District closure metrics should not penalize or target school sites serving higher concentration of students with disabilities.

No retaliation

Don’t retaliate against a parent or teacher of a student who makes a complaint of discrimination during a school closure process.

Make decisions

The Superintendent drives the process

Based on the school closure committee's analysis and conclusion, it is the role of the Superintendent to make recommendations to the school board.

The next step is for the Superintendent to conduct public hearings to gather community input. It is good practice to hold public meetings at schools considered for closure as well as at schools where closures may have a significant impact on enrollment. Meetings should discuss proposed uses for the property, including for community services.

Once public hearings are completed, at a regularly scheduled meeting the school board presents recommendations with an explanation of how the list was prepared, including public input.

Recommend Schools for Closure

Key Factors

Factors used to identify the list of school closures or consolidations.

Equity impact analysis

Equity impact analysis findings for each school closure or consolidation.

Facility usage plan

Plan for the use of the schools proposed for closure or consolidation once it becomes a vacated facility.

Plan for displaced students

Criteria used to assign displaced pupils to other schoolsites, or a description of the process of reassignment that will be used by the school district.

Transition plan

Options and timeline for transitioning pupils to their new schools, including improving safe routes to schools and home-to-school transportation needs.

A two-thirds vote is required

The school board then reviews and considers public feedback. Decisions about any school closures or consolidations are announced at a subsequently scheduled regular meeting. At that next meeting, the board should include a review of how public input was incorporated into the final recommendation.

Before ordering the sale or lease of any property a two-thirds vote of all members must adopt a resolution declaring its intention to sell or lease the property.

Make a plan for transitions

Good communication is essential in a school closure. The school district should develop a solid plan to advise both school employees and the parent community of the decision.

Approval and Notification of Closure Plan

Adopt resolution

Adopt a resolution concluding that the community engagement process was completed.

Communicate to parents

Send closure-related information to parents including the date of closure, the students’ new school, available support resources, and school district contacts.

Use surplus property wisely

Figuring out the best use of surplus property is a complicated process, but here are some greatly simplified basics:

  • Land must first be made available for use for low cost housing and for park and recreational facilities
  • Money from the sale of surplus property assets must be used for capital outlay (e.g. school construction and renovation) or for costs of maintenance of school district property, not on operating expenses (e.g. salaries).
  • Proceeds from a lease of school district property with an option to purchase may be deposited into a restricted fund for the routine repair of district facilities.
  • School districts or county offices of education can use surplus property to provide affordable housing to employees.
Ed 100

More resources

Reprinted with permission from Ed100.org

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

March 2024


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