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Clements School likely to close; other schools may be saved

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Posted: Thursday, April 7, 2011 12:00 am | Updated: 9:55 am, Thu Apr 7, 2011.

Lodi Unified School District trustees appear poised to save $91,272 by closing Clements School and moving kindergartners to nearby Lockeford School next year, but weren’t ready to move forward with closures of other small schools Tuesday.

“They’re all three different situations,” board president George Neely said.

The district is anticipating a further $15 million loss in state funding. Without the extension of certain state taxes that go toward education, the district expects to lose an additional $350 in per-student funding, possibly bringing next school year’s deficit close to $30 million.

It is the third straight year school districts have been faced with unprecedented budget cuts.

Trustees have already approved hundreds of layoffs and eliminated close to five dozen district-funded cell phones and Internet connections to save money. Elimination of sports and possible school closures are still on the table and may not be decided until June when the budget is adopted.

On Tuesday, as part of a cost-savings plan, staff recommended consolidating the Lockeford-Clements attendance area at Lockeford School beginning in the fall. An official vote will likely be held April 19.

In years past when this was discussed, parents were concerned with what they felt were inadequate kindergarten facilities. However, the construction of a dedicated kindergarten area, which includes classrooms and a play area, will take place this spring and summer.

A community forum was held last month at Lockeford School to share the proposal with parents and community members, to provide information on the transition and answer questions, according to Catherine Pennington, assistant superintendent of primary education.

Last April, the school narrowly escaped closure when a split vote sided with keeping it open, although it looked as if Clements’ closure was imminent after receiving public input.

Unlike the previous year, when it was also discussed, parents this time around indicated to trustee Bonnie Cassel that they would be just as happy to have their students at one school, she said last spring. She represents both Lockeford and Clements.

But at last spring’s meeting, she made it clear she did not want the closure vote to be part of her legacy as a trustee. She was joined by former trustees Jeff Thompson and Richard Jones, who also voted against shuttering the rural school.

Because of a possible conflict of interest, Cassel has been advised by the district’s legal counsel to neither discuss nor vote on the issue. She owns the parcel next door to the school and is currently trying to sell it.

Clements School, located along Highway 88, has been a part of the community for more than 100 years, and many of its students have parents and even grandparents who attended it. The original two-story school building was built in 1879 with the current building erected on the same site in 1940. Twenty years ago, it underwent another facelift, according to historians.

“It’s better for everybody to have them all under one roof,” Neely said. “All of the teachers I’ve talked to are pretty much resigned to going to Lockeford.”

In a separate report Tuesday, trustees heard recommendations from the Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee to close Elkhorn and Tokay Colony schools, although district staff does not agree with the proposal. Both have also faced similar fates in recent budget-tight years.

Their closures could save a combined $208,000, but Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer said Tuesday logistics related to both proposals could be difficult to deal with and could include high transportation costs. Additionally, community members have said in the past if Elkhorn is closed down, they will form a charter school to serve the district’s Gifted and Talented Education students which would mean a loss in revenue to Lodi Unified.

“It could negate any cost savings there,” Neely said.

Trustees have scheduled a town hall-style meeting to receive public input on budget cuts. It is scheduled for April 14 at the James Areida Education Support Center, 1305 E. Vine St.

Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at jenniferb@lodinews.com.

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