Two South Bay elementary schools to close at year’s end

A South Bay school district is poised to shutter two elementary schools at year’s end. Dwindling enrollment and a deep budget deficit are cited as reasons.

The days of afternoon pick-ups could be numbered, following unsettling news in San Jose’s Evergreen School District. Officials say current conditions could force the closure of Laurelwood and Dove Hill elementary schools, perhaps as soon as the end of June.

“Our board of education has no desire to close schools. But we are in a difficult situation. And essentially our backs are against the wall,” said Dr. Emy Flores, the district’s superintendent.

Flores is in her first year on the job, after moving to Silicon Valley from Fullerton last July. She says plummeting enrollment and a $12 million deficit necessitate cost-cutting. Some families are struggling to wrap their hearts and minds around the impending change.

“My grandson is a little sad that they’re gonna close. He keeps thinking, well maybe we’ll make enough money to help the schools,” says Pat Hernandez, who picked up her grandson from Dove Hill Elementary School Thursday afternoon.

It’s not just money, but also a people problem. Specifically, families continue to migrate from Silicon Valley. The high cost of housing is cited as the reason, and that’s plunged Evergreen’s enrollment by at least 2,500 students in the past three years.

“The projection unfortunately is, we’re gonna lose another 1,500 kids in the next three to four years. And the projections have been spot-on,” said Brian Wheatley, the president of the Evergreen Teachers Association.

He says the closings won’t mean layoffs, but there are fewer teachers due to attrition.

“I am retiring this year. I worry about the next generation of teachers,” he said. Added urban planning expert Kelly Snider, “Those of us who have been working in the land-use field for years or decades have been talking about this.”

Snider is also a board member of SV@Home, a non-profit housing advocacy group. She says the outflow from the Bay Area hasn’t hit an inflection point, and more district could face difficult decisions such as Evergreen’s.

“I believe it’s still going to get worse for a couple more years. It takes some time to change out built-in environment; to change how we build houses,” said Snider.

The 678 affected students and their families would be moved to nearby schools.

“We will have new boundaries,” said Dr. Flores, as she pointed to a map projection, and showed which alternate schools displaced children would attend.

But many are hoping two meetings in the next two weeks will convince Evergreen’s board to keep the status quo, and not close two beloved schools.