Carlsbad Unified is attempting to save $442,965 by closing its continuation high school, Carlsbad Village Academy (CVA).
And yet, it has committed to spending $293,822 just in preparation for opening Sage Creek, a second high school, before it is even serving students. It also plans to spend $1.4 million to run that new school in its first year, 2013-2014.
Enrollment of high school students in the district for 2013-14 is currently estimated between 3077-3275 students. Carlsbad High School (CHS) housed 3034 students in 2010-11, and the trend from 2005-06 through 2009-10 was a decline in student numbers. CVA, the alternative school on the chopping block, enrolls an average of 100 or more students each year (its population fluxes as students re-enroll at Carlsbad High or complete graduation requirements mid-year). The branch of CVA known as Carlsbad Seaside Academy that allows independent home study accounted for 62 more students in 09-10. Altogether at one site, the upper estimate of 3275 students would push the limits of the current facility. But a school that has been serving 3000 or so students each year for seven years can certainly handle similar numbers for another few years, until the budget crisis is averted.
Kurt Dearie, Carlsbad teacher and parent, reminded the board of their own data on Friday night at a special session. He said that the original projection of 3857 students “never materialized” and that there are only 3016 students at the high school today. Referencing documents prepared for the district by consultants in 2010, he added that “estimates of student enrollment all the way out to 2020 do not show growth justifying a second high school.” Recently completed additions have alleviated space issues already, and if CVA remains open in its current building, which is separate from the CHS campus, those projected enrollment numbers are manageable. A shiny new campus that costs money now but won’t benefit students until 2013, and will only serve a third of them when it does, is simply not a solution to the numbers problem. As CUTA President Sally Estep pointed out, the classroom is not just “four walls” – it is what happens inside those walls, or even on a blue tarp next to a garbage dump, as it did in the award-winning children’s book Armando and the Blue Tarp School.
As these speakers emphasized to the school board, the opening of Sage Creek High School is not wise or warranted in the current fiscal climate. Yes, the community voted for Proposition P in the fall of 2006 – but those were different economic times. Proposition P funds are paying for construction, but operating costs will come out of the same shrinking pot of money that supports the current schools. As board member Ann Tanner stated to the crowd on Friday evening, the job of a trustee is “stewardship” to the community. If the community were to be given a vote on the decisions in front of the board right now – closing two schools including CVA, putting 150 teachers on layoff notice, increasing class sizes, eliminating school librarians and other support staff, and cutting specialized programs… would the voters still choose the new school in exchange? A decision made over five years ago, before the financial crisis, may no longer be the right course of action. And isn’t the job of a trustee to make the right decisions, not to stick blindly to one that no longer makes sense?
And who are the true stakeholders to whom the trustees owe their stewardship? Mrs. Tanner referred only to the taxpayers and the voters. She seems to forget that students are the reason that public schools exist. But, they are too young to pay taxes, and too young to vote. Should they count less to our board members because of this? On the contrary, the children who are too young to advocate for themselves should be the primary concern of the board members, and of everyone involved in deciding the fate of their education in our community.