Napa education officials are not yet saying which local grade schools should close as the school district battles shrinking enrollment and falling state revenue. But on Tuesday, a director did call for two of the campuses to stay open after 2020.
West Park and Alta Heights – two of the four elementary schools with the smallest enrollments in the Napa Valley Unified School District – should not be closed after the current school year, Mike Pearson, the district’s facilities director, said Tuesday night.
Pearson shared the recommendation of NVUSD staff members with a special, 11-person volunteer committee that will recommend whether to wind down two of its smaller grade schools, as the district cuts expenses and staffing to cope with a fall-off in state funding as public-school enrollment declines.
The advisory board, known as a 7-11 committee for its minimum and maximum number of members, will meet twice more through early October before crafting a recommendation on school closures for the NVUSD board, which will then vote on the proposal.
Pearson did not specifically advocate the shutdown of the other two campuses, Yountville Elementary School and Mt. George Elementary School in the Coombsville area, and instead asked advisers to carefully weigh the available data on all the schools.
“We are not asking you, the committee, to make any decision tonight,” he told the committee at NVUSD headquarters, before a capacity audience that included parents who implored the district to avoid any school closures earlier in the meeting.
However, Yountville and Mt. George, with 2019 enrollments of 119 and 240 children respectively, are the smaller of the four grade schools – potentially a key factor for NVUSD directors who have said such small student bodies are financially unsustainable as the number of school-age children is forecast to fall further over the next decade.
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Superintendent Rosanna Mucetti has estimated the district will save $1 million a year by dropping two grade schools, and warned that not doing so could force program cuts, increased class sizes or salary freezes at campuses that do stay open.
NVUSD earlier announced a $7.2 million budget reduction, which includes teacher and staff cuts, over the next two years to keep district reserves above 3 percent of the total, to avoid a potential state takeover if reserve funds fall under that level.
With two more advisory meetings planned, committee member Arik Housley asked the district for more information on the potential land value of the four school sites, as well as any repair or maintenance needs – such as refits for earthquake resistance – that might make the upkeep more costly at some campuses than at others.
If NVUSD shuts down any schools after the 2019-20 year, any reuse of campuses would not be immediate. The four sites currently are zoned exclusively for educational use and would require rezoning approval by Napa city or county or the town of Yountville for housing or commercial development.
Officials in June announced the possibility of closing campuses for students from kindergarten through the fifth grade, saying the district must cut expenses to prepare for enrollment declines expected to last at least into the mid-2020s.
NVUSD, like most California school districts, relies mainly on state payments based on average daily attendance, which has slipped from 12,829 to 12,214 over the past five years and which the district predicts will slide to 10,633 by 2026 as high housing prices squeeze out families with children.
The resulting fiscal squeeze also has led the Napa school district to consider backing away from a second middle school in American Canyon, upsetting residents who say the new campus was promised by supporters of Measure H, the $269 million school bond measure voters passed in 2016.