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Doyle Park perseveres after closure decision

By JEREMY HAY & MARTIN ESPINOZA
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Only 12 hours after the Santa Rosa school board’s early-morning decision to close Doyle Park Elementary School to make way for a French-American charter school, exhausted Doyle Park parents, teachers and students were still reeling.

Doyle Park Elementary School

As parents picked up their children Thursday afternoon, Principal Kaesa Enemark said she was reminding students to keep their focus, even though the campus is set to close at the end of the school year.

“Yes, we may be shutting down, but we still have testing coming up, don’t lose your head,” was the message Enemark said she was delivering all day.

Falling enrollment, which has made Doyle Park a money-losing campus with declining test scores, made closing the school a fiscally responsible decision, district officials said.

“We are at the mercy of the dollar,” school board President Larry Haenel said just before the 1 a.m. vote Thursday. “We have to balance our budget.”

The seven-member board acted after one of the longest school board meetings in memory, an emotional debate in which dozens of people representing both Doyle Park and the newly created charter school essentially squared off in a battle for the same campus, located on Sonoma Avenue for 61 years.

Enrollment and the money it brings were central to the argument. The 240 students who now attend Doyle Park could be replaced by more than 300 charter students, about two-thirds of them who live in other districts. That represents new district revenue of close to $1 million.

School district staff had argued that closing Doyle Park also would save $411,000 if its current students stay in the district.

The debate was contentious and at times vitriolic, laced with accusations of racism and discrimination, as well as barbed comments between some of the board members.

The key vote came from board member Tad Wakefield, who three weeks ago at the board’s Feb. 22 meeting had said he opposed closing the school.

His reversal drew jeers from Doyle Park supporters when he admitted that he had placed the names of his two children on the list of possible future students for the French-American charter school. The admission came after someone in the crowd abruptly asked if his kids were on the list.

“I did put their names on the list,” he said, adding that he consulted the district’s legal counsel to make sure he could still participate in the vote. Haenel later defended Wakefield, saying there was no financial conflict.

“I can in good conscience say that this is the right decision,” said Wakefield before the vote was taken.

An abstention likely would not have changed the outcome of the decision. Board members Haenel, Donna Jeye and Bill Carle supported closure, while Laura Gonzalez and Ron Kristof opposed it.

Thursday afternoon, as they collected their children, Doyle Park parents expressed their unhappiness with the decision and discussed with Enemark what would happen next.

“It’s discrimination against people who speak Spanish to put in a school for French and to do it just for the money,” said Lorenzo Sarmiento, waiting for his second-grade daughter.

“We aren’t in France, we’re in California,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “Instead of a French school they should start a bilingual school for English and Spanish.”

Alfredo Bitancor, waiting for his second-grade daughter, condemned the board’s reasoning.

“I came from the Philippines and we had budget problems but we didn’t close schools,” he said. “We can rectify the problem with the political will. It’s not a business; it’s education.”

As part of the closure, board members approved a motion giving “existing Doyle Park resident students priority” enrollment in the new French-American charter school. A second motion called for examining the feasibility of opening a “Spanish/English Immersion” program at the start of 2013-2014 school year.

Haenel assured that the Spanish immersion program would be on the east side of Santa Rosa, and he credited the French charter school for bringing such language programs to the attention of the board.

During the meeting, Doyle Park students and their parents, some of them in tears, begged school board members not to close their school and to give them another chance.

“I just came here to speak to you and to try to touch your hearts,” said Jessica Nares, a Doyle Park fifth-grader. “If you don’t think Doyle Park has enough kids, why don’t you guys bring some people from other schools,” she said, shortly before breaking into tears.

Some charter school supporters said it was unfortunate that the issue had become so divisive and reminded Doyle Park parents that their children would be given priority enrollment in the new charter school.

As the meeting dragged on late into the evening, Jennifer Schwinn, a charter founder, urged board members to make a decision. She said the charter is only five months from the start of the school year and needs to have a campus site in place.

One supporter of the French American charter school urged the board to muster the courage to close Doyle Park, because, given the district’s current financial crisis, it could no longer afford to continue to subsidize a “chronically under-performing school.”

That sort of characterization was rejected by Doyle Park supporters on Thursday afternoon.

“He was here by choice,” Gloria Torres said of her grandson, who she was waiting to pick up.

“Both my children, who are grown, went to this school, and the teachers are excellent,” she said.

“My daughter gets straight A’s, and her teachers work with her all the time,” Candace Kirby said of her first-grade child.

However, enrollment has plummeted. From the 2002-2003 school year to the present, the number of students has dropped from 362 to 240. The low enrollment put the school’s expenses during the 2010-2011 school year at $180,000 over revenues.

Meanwhile, the number of parents who have signed up for the French-American charter has ballooned. Schwinn said Wednesday that the French charter has signed up 301 students. The parents of another 94 children ages 1 to 4 said they’d be interested in enrolling their kids in the future.

Haenel warned that if the district could not find an adequate site for the French charter school, the district could lose the in-district students that have signed up, amounting to a loss of $450,000.





12 Responses to “Doyle Park perseveres after closure decision”

  1. Jessica says:

    My question is, why there are bilingual English/Spanish dual immersion programs (which assures total bilingualism in both Spanish and English) available in Windsor, Sonoma and Petaluma and NOT in Santa Rosa???!?! What is going on? If you want to put a Bilingual program in the place of Doyal Park it should be a Spanish/English charter school. The French school should come after that, not before.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  2. Accountable says:

    Why aren’t Administrators in the schools with high levels of socio economic disadvantaged & English language learners looking at the success going on in the Wright school district? RL Stevens and JX Wilson outperform some of the more affluent schools.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  3. Otto Greener says:

    Any country that goes down the bilingual path where two or more languages are recognized as the national language is asking for trouble. Two or more cultures and languages divide a country, it does not united a society.

    The universal language of the United States is English, not Spanish, French, German or Japanese. It should be mandatory for all citizens and potential citizens to speak and write understandable English. It should not be an after thought in the public schools.

    Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  4. Commonsense says:

    “We aren’t in France, we’re in California,” he said, speaking in Spanish. “Instead of a French school they should start a bilingual school for English and Spanish.”
    Yes, and last I knew, California was a State witing the U.S. in which the primary language spoken is English. Also, in the U.S. and California, education, including language(s) is a valued, but that isn’t limited to Spanish. It should be for all languages, chinese, japanese, german, french, spanish, latin, etc…
    The quote above shows there is a inbalance within our community, culture and it educational institutions. DP has been having problems for sometime (if one can believe what has been published) and maybe they should have focused on was turning the existing school into a success, which would have made all of the above moot.

    Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

  5. Just Me says:

    And if this were a Spanish Charter School going in, I’m sure there’d be no complaints at all.

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  6. Esther says:

    “Make way for the LEARNERS!”

    Really? As if the kids who were there **weren’t** learners???? And you know this how?? It’s hard not to read something like this and take it as a veiled racist comment.

    As for the money aspect, what did the district do to try and turn the school around? Sounds like the answer to that is “nothing.” I watched on tv and heard that they’d had a bunch of principals in the last 10 years and that studies show that’s not good for a school. Who’s fault is that? What good faith effort did the district make? Maybe they just prayed for a new group of rich white kids to come in.

    As for this *not* being about race and class, did you watch this on tv? The first guy who spoke for the new school was some clown who put down Spanish, after basically saying public schools were infested with vermin. No, that wasn’t racist in any way shape or form. I guess I’m just imagining stuff.

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  7. Love For Da Game says:

    This is an emotional issue, but not a socioeconomic or ethnic one. It’s sad when a school has to close due to budget woes, but keeping it open will not help its students. If the school is already $180,000 in the hole, keeping it open next year as it stands would be worse, furthered by the fact that there would be no money for basic supplies, etc. That won’t help the students. There are schools waiting to take them. Whether or not it’s less convenient to get the students to those schools isn’t relevant. Forcing students from other schools to Doyle Park is not an option. This is not the 60s, and the issue is not equal rights, it’s budget. The charter school is not the reason Doyle Park is closing, Doyle Park is the reason. It’s sad, yes, but to keep the rest of the Santa rosa City Schools performing well and within budget, closing Doyle Park is the only viable option.

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  8. Missy says:

    Yay the French School is coming. Goodbye low performing school! Make way for the LEARNERS!

    Thumb up 19 Thumb down 12

  9. Mr. Pepperspray Pike says:

    Let me at um. I’ll fix em. Line em up on the sidewalk and I’ll give um something to think about aside from their complaints!

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 17

  10. Ann Vallejo says:

    Hey, if you think the accusations are old and boring, try living with racism and discrimination. Now *that* gets really old and boring and tiring.

    Thumb up 11 Thumb down 28

  11. Ken says:

    >>The “racism” & “discrimination” accusations >>get really old and boring.

    No kidding!!! How dare they accuse people of racism. Time to deal with this old school: hoses and dogs. That’ll shut them up.

    Thumb up 10 Thumb down 22

  12. Money Grubber says:

    The “racism” & “discrimination” accusations get really old and boring.

    Parents should be concerned about the quality of education which is declining in public schools.

    But when a state prison guard, with overtime pay, can take home nearly $200,000 a year with only a high school diploma, maybe public schools just are not that important any longer?

    Thumb up 24 Thumb down 9

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