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Our View: No one said this would be easy

Posted: January 8, 2010 6:46 p.m.
Updated: January 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.
The economic crisis that started more than a year ago and continues to squeeze California is rife with stories of hardship and how people and organizations are responding to it.

One thing is for sure: Dealing with the crises we face as individuals, institutions and a nation is not easy.

Such is the case with the Saugus Union School District. Due to state budget shortfalls, the district will likely close Bouquet Canyon and Emblem elementary schools at the end of this school year and send close to 900 students to other schools in the 10,000-plus student district.

The closures would save between $500,000 and $600,000 per school.

The district faces an $8.3 million budget shortfall next year, thanks to continued cuts in education spending by the men and women in Sacramento.

Saugus district Superintendent Judy Fish and the district board are addressing the shortfall head-on.

Nothing about this is easy.

Parents who believe strongly in neighborhood schools, and who have worked hard to make their children's schools outstanding, are understandably outraged. They don't want their children plucked from the school down the street and sent elsewhere, even across town, away from friends and a familiar environment.

The bulk of Bouquet Canyon's students would go to nearby Rosedell Elementary, and the rest would go to James Foster and West Creek, Fish told The Signal's editorial board.

About 75 Emblem students would return to Bridgeport Elementary - from which they were forced due to overcrowding - and the rest would go to James Foster and West Creek.

Fish estimated Emblem would likely be closed for one to two years. The temporary closure would help solve the Saugus district's no-doubt-temporary under-population problem while providing the district a chance to complete a classroom building at Emblem, taking advantage of current low construction costs.

Bouquet Canyon needs to be closed for reasons not entirely related to the recession.

The school opened in 1989 in "temporary" buildings. Now, more than 20 years later, those portable structures are only in decent shape because the district continues pouring money into maintaining them - a black hole for district repair funds at a time when those funds are scarcer and scarcer.

There is no time line to reopen Bouquet Canyon, a school with such strong parental support that one suspects neighborhood residents would get out with hammers and nails and erect new classrooms themselves, if possible.

Nothing about this is easy, but it is necessary.

"To do nothing would be irresponsible," district board member Judy Umeck told The Signal's editorial board during a recent meeting.

The district is already looking at layoffs for the 2010-11 school year. To keep schools open without an adequate number of students would mean even more layoffs to close the $8.3 million budget gap.

Martin Luther King Jr. said: "The ultimate measure of an individual is not where they stand in moments of comfort, but where they stand at times of challenge and controversy."

While the "what" of the situation is fairly cut-and-dried, it's the "how" that will need to be finessed by Saugus district officials.

The desires and preferences of parents and students should play a part in the decision-making process of reassigning students. Ultimately, the district needs to do what's most fiscally responsible for the community, but it should do it with some tenderness.

Fish and the district board are standing tall and right in front dealing with the shortfall. Besides the closing of these two schools, other tough decisions to address the shortfall are pending.

With more than 80 percent of the district's annual budget spent on compensation, there is no doubt some layoffs are inevitable. Fish is hopeful the number would be kept to around 50 full-time equivalent positions.

As a community, we should be thankful of the leadership we are getting from Fish and the district board.

We have no doubt they are taking the hand they have been dealt and doing all they can in the very best interest of the district's students.

If you're looking for someone to blame, look no further than Sacramento.

That's where legislators have continued to cut education spending in failing efforts to pull the state out of the budgetary morass into which it threw itself some time ago.

Our educators do a great job with the money they do receive, but they need more, plain and simple.

The Saugus Union School District stands at a crossroads: Close two schools and shave a little more off the potential shortfall looming on the horizon, or do nothing and face even more of an uphill climb.

On Tuesday the district board will discuss its proposals for moving forward and will make a decision at a meeting later this month.

The way we see it, there's really no option - close Emblem temporarily and close Bouquet Canyon until it can be razed and replaced with the permanent campus our community deserves.


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