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Panel trims school closure list to 2

Bess Maxwell and Pine Grove are still under consideration

An advisory committee of district staff and community members has narrowed a list of elementary schools it may recommend for closure to two — Bess Maxwell or Pine Grove, School Board members were told Thursday.

The committee will weigh the pros and cons of closing either school, said Steve Godla, Del Norte County Unified School District’s assistant superintendent of instruction and educational services. This will include visiting both sites and speaking with teachers, classified staff and other stakeholders, he said.

The committee includes retired teacher Karen Brohmer; Del Norte High teacher Dave Bokor; California School Employees Association local president Patti Rommel; district transportation director Pat Jensen; Del Norte Ambulance president Ron Sandler; Robyn Holt, co-owner of Western Valley Insurance; Realtor Kurt Stremberg; and community members Patty Berg-Nelson and Andre Cramblit.

It was formed after Superintendent Don Olson told School Board members last month that the district has lost about 1,200 students since the 2002–03 school year. As a result, the district has lost about $6 million in revenue over that time, he said.

The committee is tasked with gathering facts and ultimately making a recommendation to the School Board. This might take four to five months, Olson said, which means the board could make a decision on closing a school as early as September.

Currently, 4,180 students attend Del Norte County Unified schools, Olson said. The district could save $250,000-$350,000 per year if it operates one less school, he said.

Committee members were asked to keep in mind the desirability of having schools with two classes in each grade level in locations that enable as many students as possible to walk to school, Olson said.

At the committee’s first meeting March 7, members unanimously decided against recommending the closures of Mary Peacock or Joe Hamilton elementary schools, Godla said. Those schools have the largest elementary enrollments in the Crescent City area. Mary Peacock’s building is the newest and Joe Hamilton receives school-specific funding, Godla said.

Godla added that the district’s transportation director pointed out that closing Joe Hamilton, which is at the center of town, would likely result in the district having to add a bus driver due to the number of students who would need transportation.

Topics the committee will consider before making a final closure recommendation for either Bess Maxwell or Pine Grove include the schools’ projected enrollment, square footage, the age of the building and any significant maintenance issues, Godla said.

In his February presentation to the board, Olson included enrollment information for schools in Humboldt, Mendocino and Sonoma counties. The average enrollment at those schools, he said, was 394 students. In Del Norte County, only Mary Peacock with 384 students, approached that average, Olson said.

Mountain Elementary School in Gasquet and Margaret Keating Elementary School in Klamath are not candidates for closure due to their distance from other schools, Olson said. Redwood Elementary School, a K-8 school in Fort Dick, already has an enrollment of more than 400 students.

The advisory committee’s next meeting is at 4:30 p.m. April 4 at the district office. Meetings are open to the public, Godla said.

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