Liberty Ranch High School students wishing to take upper-level engineering courses next year will have to transfer to Galt High School in the fall.
The administrative decision has upset some parents, and put into question a thriving program currently being offered at the district's newest campus.
"Even in tough economic times, it's difficult to believe that a school would take engineering options away from kids. It's even more amazing that they didn't get the community involved first," parent David McCoy said.
Late last month, administrators discussed concerns about the numbers of prospective students needed to offer the advanced classes — civil engineering and digital electronics — at both high schools, according to an e-mail sent by Liberty Ranch Principal Brian Deis.
Further, due to continued budget cuts, it was questioned if both programs would continue to be viable, he said.
The news came the same week Galt High students ceremoniously started demolition to make way for a state-of-the-art engineering and technology wing at their school. It could be open by the start of the 2010-11 school year, prompting Liberty Ranch parents to question whether engineering programs will be sustained on both campuses.
The remainder of the demolition and construction will take place in stages throughout the summer with plans for a ribbon-cutting by August, just in time for Liberty Ranch students who may be forced to transfer there.
"The school board approved an engineering program at Liberty Ranch High School before it was opened, and many parents and students chose to enroll (there) based on that commitment by the district," parent Cameron Applegate said in an e-mail. "Suddenly, the superintendent makes the announcement — after students have enrolled in classes — that they don't have the funds to continue engineering programs at both schools. This is not right. The timing of the announcement caught everyone by surprise. Why now? And for what reason? … Obviously we have a lot of questions. The problem is we have been getting few good answers."
Parents of the mostly freshman students received an e-mail late last month from instructor Steve Box informing them that Superintendent Daisy Lee decided all upper-level engineering courses would only be offered at Galt High.
"We couldn't believe it. A lot of parents made the decision to put their students at Liberty Ranch because the engineering program was going to be there," McCoy said, adding that if parents decided it was only about money, they could hold fundraisers.
"What we want to know is, what's the long-term plan at Liberty Ranch? It would have been nice had they told us before kids signed up for classes that if there weren't enough students, it was going to be canceled," he said.
Not enough students
But Lee said the sole reason is budget-based, and that wasn't realized until recently. The board is in the throes of balancing the district's budget for the 2010-11 school year, and there is simply not enough money to pay for staffing, equipment and other materials, according to Lee.
The second-year sign-ups for the two courses have a mere 10 students each, so there are not enough students to fill the seats. "Even if we combine the students, it is still at 20," she said.
Parents, who have met at Raley's in Galt at least twice, told trustees last Tuesday of their concerns, but received no public response, according to McCoy.
Applegate addressed his concerns in a letter to trustees. "The school board made a commitment to offer a full engineering program at LRHS, and the board needs to honor that commitment," he wrote. He added that adhering to Lee's decision would effectively dismantle the school's program.
"There would be no program continuity at this campus. Making students transfer to another school to continue the engineering program would cause confusion and roadblocks. We need to look for ways to keep the program and develop it further, not tear it down," he said.
Trustee Kathleen Amos agrees with Lee's decision.
"I support any move that will give each campus an equal opportunity to attract new students, based upon its own unique personality," she said.
At the beginning of the month, an estimated 20 parents met with Lee and Deis to talk about the budget crisis, but were instead provided a sales pitch on Galt High's thriving program, according to Applegate.
He and a core group of about six families are instead turning their attention toward fundraising in hopes of saving the program. The fledgling nonprofit would provide support, equipment acquisition, professional mentoring and anything else they need to build up the program, he said.
"If the agriculture and sports programs have had their booster organizations over the years, then it's time a new group starts up, one that will support a much-needed career path like engineering. We are even looking into partial funding for salaried positions," Applegate said.
The group's first meeting is scheduled for Monday. "Maybe we can raise enough money that we can change the outlook before fall," he said.
Lee said she is appreciative of the offer since it shows that Liberty Ranch has a strong supportive group of parents, but the district's budget must be balanced by the end of June.
"Any funding needs to be firmly committed. We are still $1.2 million short after $1.3 million has been identified through cuts," she said.
'I'm a Hawk'
In his final plea to keep the program at the news campus, McCoy points toward the successful year the freshman engineering team is completing at Liberty Ranch. "And they're being rewarded with removal of the upper-level programs," he said.
Last month, the school's architecture construction engineering team won the Best Design Award for the Sacramento Regional ACE Competition.
At the beginning of the school year, Applegate's son, William, and two of his engineering peers brought home a first-place award in a separate technology competition for area high schools, the first award of any kind for Liberty Ranch.
"He is excelling in his engineering class … and is preparing himself for a career in this industry," Applegate said. "Engineering is not only one of the most worthwhile and practical classes he has, but it is also the one class he enjoys the most."
Additionally, William's friends are at Liberty Ranch and he can walk or ride his bike to school. "It's our neighborhood's school. We're Hawks now," Applegate said, referring to the school's mascot.
Box said he understands the district has to make difficult decisions. "It's a terrible time to be an educator, trying to rationalize cuts, yet provide for the students we serve," he said.
Trustees voted last week to cut Box's hours. It is not clear, but the reduction is likely for the first-year engineering course at Liberty Ranch.
At this time, come fall, the school's students can either transfer to Galt's engineering program or take a bus to the campus in the morning for classes and be transported back to Liberty Ranch for afternoon classes, according to Lee.
The final option is transferring to Galt High permanently with an intra-district permit and enrolling in the pre-engineering program there.
But soon-to-be sophomore Christopher McCoy said he would much rather stay at Liberty Ranch because he's already used to engineering there.
"All my friends are there, and I really don't want to go to Galt High. I'm a Hawk, not a Warrior," he said. "I think they should treat both schools equally and keep as many programs at both as they can."
In the end, Amos said the district appears to be moving away from school of choice (where families could choose the campus based on specific programs offered) given the change in board direction.
For example, the district's agriculture program was originally planned to be housed at Liberty Ranch while engineering was going to have the ag facilities remodeled at Galt High and become the premiere program on that campus, according to Amos.
"All that changed when it became clear that ag could not simply move itself to LRHS," she said. "All of the good programs cannot be located at LRHS, or GHS will, literally, die."