Time to plan for school closure
A positive cash flow is what any school district needs because as a public entity it is not allowed to operate in the red. Income is fleeting because such a large chunk comes from the state based on attendance. Unfortunately students are a rare commodity in Tahoe these days.
Lake Tahoe Unified School District is struggling with a $2.8 million deficit and a student population that has been disappearing for the last five years. If the trend keeps on this track, a school will undoubtedly be closed.
Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn said as much Tuesday night before more than 100 concerned residents. If the numbers hold firm with a drop of more than 100 students this year, she plans to recommend the school board vote to close a school. That recommendation could come Oct. 14 and the board could vote that night.
Change is never easy and sometimes reality is even more difficult to accept. At this rate the halls of the elementary schools will echo with silence instead of the enthusiasm of these youngsters. Something has to be done.
Closing an elementary school will save about a half million dollars a year — this includes salaries, utilities and other expenses. Leasing out the site would bring in cash that is not currently on the ledger.
There is no reason to delay the decision about closing a school. Money is not going to magically appear. If the numbers dictate closure, then the board must do what is right — that means closing a school. There is no reason to wait until December when the new school board would be seated following the November election.
Time is of the essence so the district can plan for what it will look like in the 2004-05 school year. Students, parents and educators need to be able have as much time as possible to adjust to whatever changes come down the pike.
The district is being smart in wanting to keep possession of whatever site is closed. This will provide continued income when it is leased as well as ensure it could be reopened when student populations rise again.
The only hiccup in all of this is that a school site would have to be rented or leased to a public agency because the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency would require upgrades for any site to be used by a private organization. Scheerhorn is not ruling out the possibility of finding a middle ground with TRPA, but clearly the district does not have money to meet TRPA mandates.
In the coming months three groups of citizens will meet to help mold the future of the district. They will look into long range financial stability for LTUSD; educational options; and defining the district. The groups will provide advice to the district office and school board throughout the year.
As hard as it is to imagine a school in our district closing, there appears to be no better option. Though it is imperative that we look at what got us in this situation so two schools do not end up being closed.
Hopefully a responsible school board will be elected which does not vote for 10 percent raises for staff when the money is not available. Hopefully the teachers come to the table realizing they have to make sacrifices as well.
Our district will only be successful if we remember that the students must always come first.