Critics say Santa Rosa school board making way for French-language charter
By MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Santa Rosa City Schools board is expected today to once again vote on the closure of Doyle Park Elementary School.
The vote comes just weeks after board members deadlocked over closing the school. But pressure to find a suitable campus for a French-American charter school has put the proposal to close Doyle Park back on the table.
When the closure of Doyle Park was first proposed in January, school district administrators and some school board members insisted that the two issues — closure of Doyle Park and the location of the French-language charter school — were two separate issues.
But last week, school board president Larry Haenel expressed concern that the supporters of the French-American charter school would seek another district as a partner if they don’t get an adequate site for the 2012-2013 school year.
On Feb. 22, Haenel did not put the issue to a vote after it became clear that there were not enough votes to close the school.
Haenel and board members Larry Carle and Donna Jeye supported closing the school. Board members Laura Gonzalez, Ron Kristof and Tad Wakefield supported keeping it open.
Kristof and Gonzalez strongly opposed the proposal, while Wakefield seemed less adamant about keeping it open. On Tuesday, Wakefield said he had not made up his mind how he would vote.
“It’s been a rocky road these last couple of weeks,” he said. “I’m surprised that it’s come back to the board so quickly. That tells me there’s got to be some missing information or compelling reason.”
Haenel said the missing information is the number of parents who want to enroll their children in the French-American charter. As of March 4, the French charter has signed up 298 students, according to board documents.
The parents of another 92 children ages 1 to 4 said they’d be interested in enrolling their kids in the future.
Losing the French-American charter school to another district could mean “a high likelihood that 93 Santa Rosa resident students would leave the district at a revenue loss of over $450,000 per year,” according to school board agenda documents.
Doyle Park enrollment has plummeted in recent years. From the 2002-2003 school year to the present, enrollment fell from 362 students to 240. The low enrollment put the school’s expenses during the 2010-2011 school year at $180,000 over revenues.
But some Doyle Park supporters object to how fast the axe is falling again.
Michele Morales, a Latina activist and member of the North Bay Organizing Project, accused members of the board of hastening the closure of Doyle Park to satisfy proponents of the French American charter school.
“District staff saw the Doyle parents as easy targets,” she said. “They would have never tried something like this at schools like Proctor or Hidden Valley, even if the numbers were low.”
Wakefield said that a Spanish-language immersion program would be a better for Doyle Park than a French-language charter school. But but he said the district cannot shirk it’s obligation to find a campus for the French charter school.
He said he’ll consider other locations, but “if it is Doyle Park, then it is Doyle Park.”
The school board meets at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 521-5213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.