By CJ Dablo
The Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) will soon vote on the future education of nearly 600 students who attend elementary schools in Long Beach and Signal Hill.
Citing concerns over state budget cuts to the district, LBUSD officials announced last week that they are reviewing the possible closure of Buffum and Burroughs elementary schools at the end of this school year.
The district sent letters to the parents of students last week to explain the situation. LBUSD announced that the regularly scheduled meeting of the Board of Education on Tuesday, Jan. 18 would only offer an information session regarding the possible closure. The school board will vote on the closure as early as Feb. 1, according to Chris Eftychiou, LBUSD public information director.
A crowd of more than 120 people filled the community room set aside for Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting. Educators, parents and students held up handmade poster-board signs in support of their school.
Elementary students filling an entire row squirmed in their chairs as they each held onto a long banner made of baby-blue butcher paper. In their tiny fists, they raised the hand-painted sign peppered with red handprints next to the words “Save J. Burroughs School.”
“It’s just devastating for my family, especially my daughter,” said Paula Mackridis, a parent of a fourth-grade student at Burroughs. Mackridis is a former Burroughs student, and she also teaches at another school in the Long Beach Unified School District. She enrolled her daughter at Burroughs because she wanted her to be part of a neighborhood community.
“Everyone knows each other,” she said. “All the teachers know all of the students and the administrator. I just feel like my daughter gets that extra support at a small school, which has been very nice.”
Many parents who spoke at the meeting expressed their sadness at the possible loss of their schools but also acknowledged that the district and the state are facing economic hardships.
According to Superintendent of Schools Christopher Steinhauser, the district could lose between $53,000,000 to $140,000,000 over the next two years. LBUSD officials acknowledged that this is a broad range for estimated losses. These projections are based on Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget for education and his plan to increase taxes. Part of Brown’s plan to protect K–12 education includes legislation to extend taxes. If voters do not pass Brown’s proposed tax increases, the district’s losses would be closer to $140,000,000, according to Eftychiou.
“And so, in a way, that adds further uncertainty because we’re now being asked to wait to see what happens with an election weeks and possibly months from now to know how much funding we’ll be receiving,” Eftychiou said. “We cannot count on money that may or may not be there. We have to count on money that will be there because we have to pay our bills and we can’t print money.”
“We have to prepare for the worst-case scenario as well as the best-case scenario,” said Jon Meyer, a member of the LBUSD Board of Education. Meyer also acknowledged that the numbers are only estimates.
The district targeted these two elementary schools for closure since they have smaller student populations when compared to other schools within the same district, according to a letter issued by LBUSD.
According to data cited by LBUSD, about 291 students attend Signal Hill’s Burroughs Elementary School, and around 295 students attend Long Beach’s Buffum Elementary School.
Closing Buffum and Burroughs will save the district about $809,140 in the 2011–2012 school year after one-time costs are factored into the estimate. Starting with the 2012–2013 school year, the district will save about $1,259,140, according to the latest figures released by LBUSD on Tuesday.
But closing those schools is only part of an overall plan to manage the district’s deficit. Eftychiou also said that the Board of Education will soon call a special board meeting to discuss additional cuts. For now, Eftychiou said, the board is considering closing only Burroughs and Buffum, but he said several of the cuts in the past have affected salary and personnel, citing times when many employees have been asked to take furlough days.
“So these are not cuts that are pleasant for anybody, but, unfortunately, we don’t have a choice but to put everything on the table right now,” Eftychiou said.
According to district officials, they will be reviewing a plan to reassign teachers from the elementary school.
“I’m very sad,” said Judith Kaho, who teaches second grade at Burroughs, where she enjoyed the family-oriented atmosphere. She said she doesn’t know where she’s going to teach in September.
“It’s just a very tumultuous time,” said Michael Day, president of the Teachers Association of Long Beach. Since Burroughs and Buffum are the quintessential neighborhood schools, it really hits home harder, he said.
“All my friends are so fun,” said Aaron Caldwell, a third-grade student at Burroughs. His tiny, dimpled face peeped over the tall, blue paper banner he had held with his friends.
“I like all the teachers there because they just help you to learn, and I just want to stay at the school,” chimed in his nine-year-old sister, Aundrea Caldwell.
Even though Burroughs Elementary is located in Signal Hill, that City is not in a position to take over the problem of the school district’s financial crisis. Signal Hill has no plans to create its own school district to manage the schools within city limits, according to Signal Hill City Manager Ken Farfsing.
The City did consider the possibility of forming an independent school district years ago, but the current economic recession may– for the moment– quash any possible consideration to revisit the idea of an independent district.
“Where would we get the money?” Ken Farfsing asked. “The school district is making some tough choices. It’s unfortunate.”