By Mike Myslinski
Members of the Knightsen Teachers Association who are fighting to keep Old River Elementary open.
Buy a pizza, save a school.
As some school boards vote to close public schools across California due to dire state budget cuts and other factors, teachers and parents at one San Francisco Bay Area school are holding fundraisers and enlisting a pizza parlor and juice shop to donate sales proceeds to keep their beloved campus open. They’re desperately trying to meet their district’s unusual May 20 deadline for the community to raise at least $50,000 of the $75,000 needed to keep their small Contra Costa County school open — a brand-new campus that opened last July.
“It would be devastating if our school closed, and we are doing everything we can to keep it open,” says Ann Ajimura, president of the 26-member Knightsen Teachers Association and a fifth-grade teacher at the popular Old River Elementary School in Brentwood in the tiny, two-school Knightsen School District.
She says teachers are pitching in. “Teachers have donated their own money, and we are providing materials for some of the fundraisers, like the pancake mixes for our fundraiser breakfasts. The local merchants are helping out and there aren’t really many more merchants we can ask.”
The merchants agreeing to donate a percentage of sales proceeds on certain days include Chuck E. Cheese Pizza, a Jamba Juice outlet, a Togo’s sandwich shop, and Loard’s ice cream parlor. A local bowling alley and skating rink are pitching in as well.
Old River parents mobilized to hold a family bowling fundraiser, a dinner and a silent auction. Parent Rochelle Henson started a “Save Old River School” blog at www.saveoldriver.blogspot.com. Before the school board makes its final decisions on May 27, the blog asks the public to make tax-deductible donations.
“We need your help,” Henson wrote in the blog. “Unfortunately, due to state budget cuts and the depressed economy, our new school may be forced to close. With your support we know that we can continue to provide wonderful opportunities to our students on our beautiful campus.”
The area has been hard hit by mortgage foreclosures and aborted housing developments, leading to declining enrollment. The new K-5 school is down to 124 students, but can hold 400. Eight of the district’s 26 educators were issued pink slips. Superintendent Vickey Rinehart credits the Old River teaching staff for coming to the district and proposing the fundraising approach, which the school board then supported.
“This was all driven by the teachers at Old River,” Rinehart says. “They deserve the credit. But I think it’s going to be very difficult to raise the money in so short a time. The school year ends on June 4, and we need to make decisions. The school board does not want to close the school. We are hoping the federal stimulus funding for California’s schools might provide enough money, but we don’t know yet.”
Communities can make a difference in keeping schools open, says parent Rochelle Henson about her determination to work with teachers to save Old River Elementary in Contra Costa County. Her daughter is in the first grade there and is benefiting from the dedicated staff.
“The teachers are absolutely fabulous,” Henson says. “It’s a small school, and it’s like a family there. We know we have to raise a large amount of money in a very short amount of time to keep Old River open. But it’s worth fighting for, and we are going to keep trying to raise the money.”
Other school closures around the state due to budget shortfalls
- The school board for the West Contra Costa Unified School District voted in February to close three schools, despite protests and pleas from teachers and parents: El Sobrante Elementary in El Sobrante, Castro Elementary in El Cerrito, and Adams Middle School in Richmond. Pink slips were issued to 215 educators in the financially strapped district in March.
- In the 50,000-student Sacramento City Unified School District, the school board voted April 16 to close four schools at the end of this school year to save $1.6 million: Genesis High School, and three elementary schools, Thomas Jefferson, Alice Birney and Lisbon. The district may have to close up to a dozen schools in the next three years because of declining enrollment and budget deficits. It issued 380 pink slips and expects a deficit of $15.4 million in the next fiscal year that starts July 1, the Sacramento Bee reported. The Sacramento City Teachers Association recognizes the need for consolidation for budget reasons, but is fighting the layoff notices, which are unrelated to the school closures.
- The Chino Valley Unified School District announced in March that three elementary schools would be shuttered due to financial constraints and fewer students. The schools are Richard Gird, El Rancho and Los Serranos.
- The Covina-Valley Unified School District school board voted to close two elementary schools in June because of budget cuts and an urgent need to reduce the 14,000-student district’s budget by $2.5 million. Despite strong opposition from the public, Covina and Valencia schools will shut down. The district issued 88 pink slips to educators in March.
Several other district schools were saved when the cities of Richmond and Pinole suddenly agreed to provide a total of $1.5 million in funding to keep them open in the fall. The sprawling district serves 30,000 students.
Related Tags: Volume 13 Issue 8, Inside Educator, Make A Difference, Awareness, Budget, Community, Financial, Layoffs, Member, News, Parents, Protection, Shortage, Teacher, Union,