EAST PALO ALTO (KPIX 5) — Citing years of declining enrollment and a looming seven-figure budget deficit, the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto is moving forward with plans to shut down two of its elementary schools and consolidating them with the remaining three elementary campuses.
All of the elementary schools within the district are operating at roughly half capacity, according to Superintendent Gina Sudaria, who has seen the student population steadily decrease since beginning her teaching career at Ravenswood in 1998.
“5,000 students at that time. And now in 2019, we have 2,070-ish students, which is a decrease of 60 percent of our enrollment,” said Sudaria.
Soaring Bay Area rent and real estate prices are fueling the exodus from the region, leading families into the Sacramento area, Central Valley and beyond. The median price of a home in East Palo Alto hit $1 million in 2018. The rent for a one bedroom apartment in the city is $2,693, a year-over-year increase of 6%, according to Rent Cafe.
“The cost of living in the Bay Area is expensive. And a lot of our families are moving out of the area, which means they’re moving away from our schools. And it’s impacting not only our students’ families, but our teachers as well,” said Sudaria.
At a school board meeting on Dec. 6, the district proposed closing Brentwood Academy in East Palo Alto and Willow Oaks Elementary School in Menlo Park. The two would merge with Castano Elementary and Belle Haven Elementary, respectively.
Each school closure would save the district approximately $400,000. Keeping all the schools open would mean operating at a deficit of $1.2 million. The closed campuses could then be leased out to generate revenue for the district.
“It’s something that has to be done and I think our community knows it’s a difficult decision. But we have to make the decision, the tough decisions for the best interest of our kids,” Sudaria said.
Ana Valdez, a parent with three children at Brentwood, said they’re are sad about the possible closure. Valdez has been tempted to move after learning several friends had already left the city.
“Maybe Modesto. It’s cheaper. The problem in my family, my husband works in San Francisco all the time. So it’s hard, because moving to Modesto means the more time the husband is outside of the house, or coming home late, so it’s hard,” said Valdez.
The board is set to vote on the final closure plan on Jan. 9, 2020.