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Friday, December 3, 2021

Two Hayward schools to close next year, more likely to follow

Hayward Unified this week became the second Bay Area school district in the past month to make the agonizing decision to close two schools due to declining attendance, a trend that partly reflects families leaving who cannot afford the region’s high housing costs.

In the coming years, the district authorities have warned that in the coming years, schools will be closed even more. But at least for now, four other schools that were on the closure list have been rescued.

However, despite objections from many parents, teachers, and staff, the board voted unanimously to close Strawbridge and Bowman elementary schools at the end of this school year and move two kindergarten programs to elementary school.

District administrators and school board members have said they have no choice: Hayward Unified is facing a $ 14 million budget deficit, largely driven by student cuts, and in the meantime, they need to find more than $ 900 million to properly modernize their aging campuses. …

In just the last couple of years, it has lost about 2,000 students and about 25% of its students over the past two decades.

When asked if there were any other options, Superintendent Matt Wayne said the bottom line was: “We have too many schools for too few students, and that won’t change in a year.”

Hayward Unified is not alone in losing students.

The Cupertino Union School District announced last month that it will close Regnart and Meyerholz primary schools and merge Muir Primary School next fall. And Oakland Unified narrowly avoided a series of closings earlier this year after the school board decided to adjust the budget instead.

Enrollments in public schools across the state have declined by more than 230,000 in the past five years, a trend likely to continue, according to the California Department of Treasury.

In the Bay Area, of nine counties, all but Contra Costa counties are expected to lose students in the next decade, with state officials predicting Santa Clara County will have the fifth largest enrollment drop in the state.

State and local officials said gentrification, rising house prices, declining birth rates and the decision by some parents to send their students to private or charter schools contributed to the decline.

Many speakers at Wednesday’s meeting asked the school board to wait until more public comment was heard and other options explored, arguing that there was not enough parenting outreach.

Chanten Fauntleroy, a teacher at Bret Hart High School, asked the board to “invite all stakeholders to the table together to look at the budget so that we can make a fairer decision about how and where to cut.”

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“If you end up closing Bowman, then I have no reason why I should stay here at Hayward Unified,” Andrea Rivera, a parent of two at Bowman, told board members. Rivera said there were no other schools within walking distance.

In an interview Thursday, Rivera said she was “very disappointed” with the school board. “They don’t listen to us, they don’t put children first. This position, the strength that you have, you must serve the children. “

Rivera added that the board should have garnered more feedback before taking such drastic action. “You need to consider all the options to avoid hurting or influencing children before you are forced to go to extreme lengths to close schools,” she said.

“We weren’t even present when you guys started this conversation. We had a fall break, ”Bowman’s teacher Emily Worth told the board.

Worth said the county hasn’t done enough to attract Bowman’s parents, including many who speak poor English.

“Many of them did not know that our school was closing. It’s just ridiculous how little our parents were asked and how little they participated in this process, ”she said.

As recently as last month, the district considered closing eight schools overall over the next few years, but reduced the number to six, including Glassbrook Elementary and Ochoa High in 2023-24, and relocating four others, including Bret Hart High. in 2024-25

The board, however, decided to postpone consideration of any of these schools for now after hearing all concerns and complaints.

“We have a responsibility to truly raise a voice that is not being heard right now, and I truly believe we are not listening to people,” board member Peter Buffett said ahead of the vote to close only Bowman and Strawbridge.

District spokeswoman Dionysia Ramos said she understands that some parents and teachers may feel caught off guard, but the committee formed in 2020 to develop criteria for evaluating various schools included teachers and other work groups as well as community members.

“I think there are different opinions about what the purpose of this group was, and people think they really didn’t know about the school closings until they saw this list,” she said.

“What will not change is that we will have less money because we will have fewer students,” she added. “We have more buildings than funds to manage.”

Staff writer Grace Hayes contributed to this report.

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