No plans to shutter Donner Trail school | SierraSun.com

No plans to shutter Donner Trail school

Christine Stanley
Sierra Sun

Parents and administrators are getting closer to determining the fate of Donner Trail School.

At a meeting of the school board held Wednesday night, Doug Dalicandro, a Donner Trail parent and member of the school’s task force, presented a first round of opinions and data to the board. The information addressed the Donner Summit area’s changing demographics, myths and realities about Donner Trail, and touched briefly on the finances associated with the neighborhood school.

In June of this year, a budget review committee presented the school board with grim numbers and suggested cuts. One of those cuts was Donner Trail School.

Four of five board members agreed to give the school near Kingvale and the surrounding community one year to come up with a plan to make the campus more economical and equitable in regard to other schools in the district.

That equity, meanwhile, might end up showing itself in enrollment, not in dollars.

According to information provided to the school board by the task force, enrollment at Donner Trail has increased steadily since 1993 from 20 pupils to 67, and in the past five years the percentage of students who are also summit residents has increased as well.

Recommended Stories For You

“There are younger families moving into the area, and indications point to an increase in future school-aged children,” said superintendent Dennis Williams.

In a previous task force meeting, Glenshire Elementary principal Kathleen Gauthier mentioned concerns voiced by her community that the fourth/fifth-grade class size at Donner Trail was too small. In response, it was agreed that the school would increase its current class size of 25 to 27 in order to be in parody with the other elementary schools.

In recent years there has been a building moratorium on Donner Summit due to the limited capacity of the local sewer system. But a $8 million to $10 million sewer expansion plan was recently approved by the summit’s public utility district to begin in 2008.

After the new sewer expansion there could be more than 640 new homes built in the summit area, including 300 in Serene Lakes, and more than 100 in both Soda Springs and PlaVada, according to the Donner Summit PUD.

Coupling that with the recent sale of more than 4,000 acres in Royal Gorge to a Bay Area development company, the Donner Trail task force presented its belief that the future need for the school will be significant.

But some members of the board maintained skepticism about the demographics associated with that growth, including Bev Ducey, who voiced concern that new summit homes might be those of second-home owners.

While significant reason was presented on the benefits of keeping the small school open, cost remained an issue of contention.

“There is an ongoing incremental cost to keeping that school open, and there is capacity for those students elsewhere,” said Ducey. “There could be a lot done with that money. And what will be the deferred maintenance cost?”

When the closure of Donner Trail was first broached in June of this year, the board calculated that shutting down the site would save the district $90,000 annually, not including deferred maintenance costs such as building repair and asphalt replacement.

“As a committee, we were ready to dig into finances, but every way we looked it was shown to be unsubstantial as a reason for closing Donner Trail,” Dalicandro said. “Even stretching the operating costs to the high end, it didn’t seem worth $90,000 to lose the asset.”

The cost of transportation was also brought up at the meeting, including the need for more than one bus, should the school close. This would be necessary because of the off-set schedules at the high school, middle school, and elementary schools and but could cost enough to negate the any savings.

Because the presentation by the task force on Wednesday night was not an action item and was only intended to educate the board, no motion occurred.

“We are not recommending to turn this into an action item,” said Board member PAt Gibbons-Johnson. “We will use the information and roll it into the district’s strategic plan.”