Summit school eyed for closure | SierraSun.com

Summit school eyed for closure

Renee Shadforth
Sierra Sun
Photo by Ryan Salm/Sierra SunFifth graders Dylan Murtha and Andreas Barth work in the computer lab at Donner Trail School on Tuesday.
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Parents, students and teachers at Donner Trail School have realized the days may be numbered for their campus that sits high on Donner Summit.

The elementary school, and its 60-plus student population, has been placed on a list of proposed budget cuts that will appear before the school board Wednesday, June 1 at 6:45 p.m. at Truckee Elementary School.

This isn’t the first time the 65-year-old school has been on the chopping block ” and it has escaped being cut every time. But this year, the school is on a shorter list of suggested reductions. And this time, the closure of the campus has been suggested by Tahoe Truckee Unified School District Superintendent Dennis Williams.

“This is not the decision of the budget review committee. I own this decision,” Williams told a group of parents, teachers, students and summit community members at Donner Trail last Thursday. “We have to do everything possible to be effective with the dollars we have.”

More than 100 people showed up for the meeting to get answers from Williams about why he chose to add the closure of Donner Trail to a list of proposed cuts for the 2005-06 school year. The closure would save between $70,000 and $90,000 to the district’s general fund next year, Williams said.

The cost per student to run Donner Trail is expensive when compared with other programs in the district, he said.

If Donner Trail is closed, students would either attend Glenshire Elementary or Kings Beach Elementary.

During the meeting, parents spoke to Williams about the value of their school. They said Donner Trail not only increases the economic viability of the Donner Summit area, but it also provides an alternative to driving down the summit for schooling, which can take more than an hour during a snow storm. They also suggested solutions to avoid closing the school ” like alternative revenue streams for the district and other possible cuts.

Some parents said they would use their own money to save the school.

Dale Verner, who sits on the Donner Summit Public Utility District board of directors, presented demographic data to Williams, saying Donner Summit is expected to grow, thus increasing the need for a neighborhood school.

“This area will double in 10 years,” he said.

Sandi Gradillas-Spaich, a Donner Trail parent who sits on the Measure A citizens oversight committee, said she was disappointed in Williams for suggesting Donner Trail be closed, especially after he had asked to use Measure A’s ending fund balance toward the district’s general fund reserve to avoid making hard cuts in the district.

“When you said ‘We don’t want to make the hard cuts,’ never in my wildest dreams did I think you wouldn’t mean three school closures,” she said of the proposal to relocate Coldstream Alternative and Creekside Magnet schools in addition to the Donner Trail proposition. “If these aren’t hard cuts, then what do you mean by ‘hard cuts’?”

Greg Murtha, who is a Donner Trail parent and marketing director at Sugar Bowl, said Donner Summit is where young families will be moving in the coming years.

“This is the last bastion of affordable housing in our community,” he said. “Where are we going to educate these kids?”

Randy Humphreys, a teacher at Alder Creek Middle School and Donner Trail parent, said Donner Trail’s small-school environment should be a model for other district sites.

“This school is the highest rated academic school in the district,” he told Williams. “Why are we not looking at this school as a model of what we want our district’s kids to be doing? Why are we closing a school that’s doing what we want a school to do?”

The budget review committee ” the group charged with identifying cuts for the 2005-06 school year ” did not decide to cut Donner Trail in its May 23 committee meeting, Williams said.

“It was impossible for that budget review committee to reach consensus to close this school,” he said. “They value this school. It then becomes my responsibility, as the chief executive officer of this district, to step up and make these cuts.”

Donner Trail parents, teachers and community members will have the opportunity to present their cases to the school board tonight.

Susan Phebus, principal of Donner Trail, said she had been directed by the school district’s administration not to comment to the media about the closure of Donner Trail.