UPDATE: In a surprising move, the Novato Unified School District halted plans to close one elementary school in the 2022-23 school year.
At the board of trustees meeting on Tuesday, Superintendent Kris Cosca told the trustees the district should halt the closure move. He had previously told the board that the district had to make the move or face a financial collapse.
Cosca also told the board that closing a school, which met with big protests from parents, would distract the district fully re-opening in the fall post COVID. The district has also met with withering criticism from parents for the district’s inability to get schools fully open for in-person learning this spring. Many parents withdrew their children from Novato public school in lieu for private schools, which have been largely open since October 2020.
Mary Jane Burke, the county superintendent of schools, also told trustees at the Tuesday meeting that she needed to step in to stabilize the situation. The Novato district has lost more than 300 students and faces a $2.8 million budget deficit. Burke also said that there were workplace hostility issues that she needed to investigate.
If there was one sign that said it all last month when the Novato Unified School District set in motion a process to eliminate one elementary school in the community, it was the sign that read: “We Love Our School.”
It was carried by parents and students at all three schools that were on the chopping block: Lynwood, Rancho and Lu Sutton elementary schools.
But in the end, the special committee of Novato residents faced with the unhappy decision of closing one decided Lu Sutton was the one that should go.
Sreekala Balasubramanian, Meg Cadiz, Sylvia Barry, Ron Gerber, Ali Iqbal, Mary LaPlaca, and Jennifer Lynn Delucchi voted in favor. Alejandra Argueta, Betsy Borberg, Steve Hospodar, and Almas Siddiqui voted against.
The decision featured acrimonious accusations made during the lengthy meetings last month in which parents leveled charges of racism and bias.
Parents at Lynwood said closing that school would show bias against English learning Hispanic students. Parents at Rancho said closing their school showed a bias against Asians because Rancho is 16% Asian. Parents at Lu Sutton argued that when the schools were compared side-by-side, using the major criteria established by the district, their school should be spared.
NUSD Superintendent Kris Cosca summed the process up, saying the decision was a necessary and “painful step” for the school district.
If the NUSD Trustees agree with the decision later this month, Lu Sutton would close in the 2022/23 school year and save the district about $400,000 a year. The district says because of enrollment decline it faces dire fiscal consequences if it doesn’t cut expenses now.