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UPDATE: $1M savings by closing Midtown school

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One of Midtown’s last remaining primary schools is on the chopping block for closure, along with 10 other sites in the Sacramento City Unified School District.

The school – Washington Elementary School at 520 18th Street – is between the Mansion Flats and New Era Park neighborhoods, and was built in the 1950s. It was nearly closed in 2009, amid a budget crisis, and has the capacity to serve 580 students. Enrollment for the current year is 222 – or 38 percent its potential – making it one of the least populated elementary schools district-wide. 

"We’re in a real difficult position here," said Area 1 Board Member Jay Hansen, who was only recently appointed to his position. "Every community in Sacramento will be impacted by this." 

The reason for the schools’ potential closures is due to declining enrollment, and because they’re operating at less than half their capacity, "which drains resources from other students and other schools," according to a news release from the SCUSD. Doing so would also save the district about $10 million over a four-year period, SCUSD Spokeswoman Janet Weeks said, with Washington representing an approximately $1.1 million savings over the same time period. 

This is an effort to "right-size" the district, "which has too many schools serving a declining number of students," the release stated.

"Closing schools is a difficult and painful process and SCUSD will make every effort to ease this transition for impacted families and staff," the release from SCUSD Spokesman Gabe Ross stated. "Right-sizing is the right move financially and it benefits students by reducing the number of split-grade classrooms, concentrating needed resources on fewer campuses and increasing safety at campuses."

Area 1 Board Member Jay Hansen

Local Reaction

District 4 City Councilman Steve Hansen, upon hearing the news Wednesday, issued the following statement via Facebook:

"With the loss of almost all elementary schools in the central city, it’s disappointing to see Washington Elementary on this list. I’ve got lots of questions for the District on this decision, and thankfully we’ll have some time to get answers before this is final."

Jay Hansen, who is working with Steve Hansen to evaluate the impact to Midtown, said while he hopes it’s not necessary to close Washington, schools running well-below capacity end up hurting the district’s overall finances. "It’s the last option any of us want to do, but we have to be good fiscal stewards," he said. "I certainly understand that losing a school that serves so many people and has an impact on people in my district." 

Community activist Julie Murphy, who lives across the street from the vacant Old Marshall School, was shocked to hear of another possible school closure. "Wow, that is disappointing that the school district may be taking away the only elementary school in the central city," she said, noting that doing so doesn’t encourage families to move to the area.

"It seems like an inconsistent message," Murphy said. "Famlies want to be where the schools are – that’s quite a blow to the community." 

Having lived by an empty school building for the past four years, Murphy has a bit of insight into a vacant landmark’s effect on its surroundings. "I worry – it’s a wooden structure – about someone climbing the fence and breaking in, and we worry that one day we’ll wake up to fire and fire trucks across the street," she said. 

What’s Next? 

The potential school closures will be discussed at the Board of Education meeting Thursday night, and individual community meetings will be held at all sites prior to the board taking final action Feb. 21. Thursday’s meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. and will be held at the Serna Center Community Conference Rooms, at 5735 47th Ave.

The other schools slated for closure are as follows:

• Fruit Ridge
• James Marshall
• Tahoe
• C.P. Huntington
• Susan B. Anthony
• Bret Harte
• Joseph Bonnheim
• Mark Hopkins
• C.B. Wire
• Maple

We’ll update this story as we get more information and reaction, but in the meantime, let us know: What are your thoughts about the possibility of Midtown losing an elementary school?

Editor’s note: The “News Digest” goes out every Tuesday morning and highlights our best stories, photos and videos from the week prior. Sign me up.

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