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Saugus: two down, one up

School district closes elementary sites to compensate for budget shortfall, opens another

Posted: January 27, 2010 10:04 p.m.
Updated: January 28, 2010 4:55 a.m.
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Bouquet Canyon and Emblem elementary schools will close at the end of the school year due to massive budget cuts, Saugus Union School District board members decided this week.

At the same meeting, board members voted to open West Creek Elementary School, a performing arts-focused school with an innovative curriculum. The vote to open a new school while closing two others left some parents upset.

“These decisions are not taken lightly at all,” board member Rose Diaz said. “Know that it was not an easy decision.”

It was standing room only at the Tuesday night meeting as more than 100 parents, teachers and administrators filled every seat in the board room. Crowds lined the walls and doorways and parents applauded speakers who criticized the district for closing schools.

Among the series of speakers was 11-year-old Samuel Hanamaikai, a Bouquet Canyon fifth-grader, who hoped his persuasive essay written in class would sway board members to keep his school, and its mascot — the Bobcats — alive.

“Closing our school would affect the way we work and learn,” Hanamaikai said. “If Bouquet Canyon closes, some very valuable teachers will lose their jobs.”

The emotional speech took a toll on the audience and board members. Some dabbed their eyes with tissues as the youngster stood in a room of adults and read about his school’s accomplishments.

The student received a standing ovation and board members asked if he could send his speech to state lawmakers.

“Closing our school will disrupt the smooth process of our education,” he said. “Don’t let Bobcats be extinct.”

Without the school closures, district officials said that they would have to look elsewhere to make cuts, like reducing the number of teachers, administrators and support staff.

“If we do nothing, we still have to come up with $8 million to cut from this district,” board member Judy Umeck said. “We’ve tried very hard to stay away from your school sites and classroom.”

Need for closures
Closing schools has been an option for Saugus Union for the last three years, said Bob Cutting, assistant superintendent of business services.

The recent round of cuts to funding was the final push.

“We just couldn’t find any other way to meet those reductions,” Cutting said.

Closing Bouquet Canyon saves the district about $600,000 a year. Emblem’s temporary closure saves about $500,000 a year.

The schools were targeted because of their low enrollments. Additionally, Bouquet Canyon is an all-portable campus that has significant electrical, sewer and water problems.

The district does not intend to sell the property or the school buildings. Rather, the school campus will most likely be used for administrative purposes.

Closing Emblem for about a year will allow the district to build a two-story classroom building, a project given the green light Tuesday.

The school district plans to assemble transition committees made up of parents, administrators and teachers for the impacted schools to create ways for the school communities to adjust to the changes.

The majority of Bouquet Canyon’s 540 students will attend Rosedell Elementary School, pushing enrollment to about 950 next year, Cutting said. The boundary adjustment will send a small portion to Highlands and James Foster elementary schools.

Many of Emblem’s roughly 300 students will attend Highlands with some other students going to Bridgeport and James Foster.

Rosedell Principal Cory Pak will be appointed to West Creek principal while Bouquet Canyon Principal Jeff Pettipas will become Rosedell’s principal. District officials said they did not know where Emblem Principal Julie Bogosian will go.

West Creek Music Academy

The West Creek Music Academy would be unlike any other school in the Saugus Union School District.

“I believe public education is at a crossroads,” Superintendent Judy Fish said. “West Creek is the beginning of an opportunity to refocus ourselves and respond to the challenges we’re facing.”

Parents criticized the district for closing two schools and shuffling students while opening West Creek.

“It makes it an even harder pill to swallow,” Emblem PTA member Julie Malchus said.

The district hopes to open the school with about 500 students next year. More details about the school’s curriculum will be made public during a Feb. 2 board meeting.

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