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Sting of District's Budget Ax Brings School to Tears

The Region

Education: 'It's devastating,' one parent says, a day after the Irvine board voted to close Los Naranjos Elementary. Drastic cuts will be felt districtwide.

January 24, 2002|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Between math, reading and playtime, a lot of tears were shed Wednesday as kids, their parents and teachers at Irvine's Los Naranjos Elementary School grappled with the news.

The night before, board members in the cash-strapped Irvine Unified School District voted to close the 28-year-old campus, then followed it up with a long list of drastic cuts to erase a projected $5.2-million shortfall.

"It's devastating," parent Jennifer Alcaraz said of the plan to close the school in June. "My kids have been here since kindergarten. Now my fourth-grader is having a hard time adjusting."

To balance the budget, board members Tuesday also eliminated smaller class sizes in kindergarten, second and third grades districtwide and cut back science and music programs. More than 120 teachers could receive layoff notices this spring.

Those cuts hurt. But in a city designed around the concept of small, community campuses at the center of village-like developments, the loss of the first neighborhood school represents a major change in philosophy. It would be only the second time the district has closed a school. An elementary school at El Toro Marine Corps Air Station was closed along with the base.

"We got a double whammy," Los Naranjos principal Adelle Yeaton said. Not only will her students and teachers have larger classes and fewer arts and science programs, they will lose their campus and their identity as a community. Students at Los Naranjos will get first dibs in applying to other district schools.

Mindful that their budget picture is not likely to brighten in the near future, Irvine board members late Tuesday night warned that more schools might be facing closure and appointed a task force to study the viability of their trademark neighborhood campuses. Small campuses are more expensive to operate than larger ones, and many districts did away with them long ago.

"This represents a departure from ... very, very small schools that are, in some cases, a stone's throw from each other," Supt. Patricia Clark White said. "We need schools that have a more robust attendance and can weather the ups and downs of the neighborhood."

Parents, teachers and children say they are trying to accept this--but it still stings.

"It's sad," said Penny Knox, who has taught at the school for 16 years. "I feel like my family is being scattered.... We are losing everything."

One child even took matters into his own hands to try to save the school. When Steven S. Choi, president of the school board, visited Los Naranjos last week, Wesley Creighton, 6, ran up to him and donated the entire contents of his piggy bank: $1.11.

Choi brought the money to the school board meeting and donated it, in Wesley's name, to the Irvine Public Schools Foundation.

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