Due to declining enrollment, parents and teachers have only one more year to decide on a plan for the future of Tokay Colony Elementary School.
Members of the Lodi Unified School District board of trustees declined to vote on a proposal to move the small kindergarten and first-grade classes to Live Oak Elementary School next year. That move would have been the first step in a plan to eventually find a new home for all the students and close the small country school.
Catherine Pennington, assistant superintendent of elementary education, offered a proposal to move the four kindergartners and four first-graders to Live Oak for the year, drop staffing to three teachers at Tokay Colony, and begin to plan for closure.
Parents and teachers agreed that moving the younger kids to Live Oak was a hardship they weren't willing to take on. The schools are six miles apart along Live Oak Road.
"Expecting parents to drive their kids to two schools is unreasonable," said Lisa Chaves, a parent. The school also serves as a local disaster center, a polling place and a 4-H meeting place, she added.
Several speakers mentioned the tight relationships at the school.
"If we're up for closure, it doesn't make sense to break up the community in the last year they are together," said Aimee Ramsower, a teacher at the school.
Parent and bilingual paraeducator Olivier Lopez grew emotional when she described the close ties at the school.
"We understand enrollment issues, but we would like you to see (us) much more as a family than as a school," she said.
To boost enrollment, several speakers mentioned bringing in students from the Harney Lane migrant camp. Those students have gone to Live Oak School since 1995, and receive extra tutoring in the summer to make up for spending the winter with their families in Mexico.
But it isn't fair to those students and their families to force a move unless the board was committed to keeping Tokay Colony open for several years to come, said Pennington. If enrollment trends at Tokay Colony continue to remain very low, those students would eventually become an isolated group.
Pennington said staffing for smaller classes is not cost-effective, but one parent said declining enrollment is due to the overhanging threat of closure.
"Year after year, we're afraid of you closing our school, so parents are IDA-ing out our children," said Branda Delatorre, referring to the inter-district transfer agreements required to move a student to another campus. "I understand you're looking at (finances), but we're worried about our kids."
Trustee Bonnie Cassel stepped in with a different proposal: Keep the school as-is for one more year, with the expectation that parents and teachers would use the time to thoughtfully plan for a solution to dissolve the school. That year would also give district staff a chance to check out neighboring Victor, Lockeford and Live Oak schools to see whether they have room to take in more students.
After some discussion, the board declined to make any motion, so the school will remain a kindergarten-through-sixth-grade school for at least one more year.
"We're trying to strike a balance. The personal stories mean a lot, but we have to deal with financial realities," said board president Ralph Womack. "I want you to keep in mind these trends are real, and we'll have a serious discussion next time around."
Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at email@example.com.