CRPUSD approves two new schools
University Elementary, Technology Middle schools slated to open in fall
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By Dave Williams  March 15, 2013 12:00 am

The decision by the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District Board of Trustees to open new schools in the fall was greeted with unabashed enthusiasm at its meeting on Tuesday, March 12.

A pair of unanimous 4-0 votes meant Technology Middle School and University Elementary School will join the other 11 schools under the district’s jurisdiction. Board member Leffler Brown was absent from the meeting.

Technology Middle School, which will be located at the grounds of the former Mountain Shadows Middle School on Burton Avenue in Rohnert Park, will have an inaugural class of sixth- and seventh-graders in the fall, with eighth-graders joining the campus in 2014-15.

“I was excited to hear about University at La Fiesta opening,” Rohnert Park’s Gail Davis, whose son is a freshman at Rancho Cotate High, said when addressing the board. “I think it will be good for L section and the entire district.”

University will open in the fall at the site of the shuttered La Fiesta Elementary School on Liman Way in Rohnert Park. Budget cuts forced the closure of La Fiesta and Gold Ridge Elementary School in 2008, and Mountain Shadows closed in 2010. Board members feel the decision is a clear sign the district is starting to recover from the deep budget cuts and declining enrollment that has been a hindrance the past few years.

Superintendent Robert Haley has been one of the driving forces in getting the two schools opened. This, he feels, is a much better solution than closing campuses. The opening of the new schools should reduce class size, which makes the local schools more attractive to residents in Rohnert Park and Cotati. Since 2000, CRPUSD has seen its total enrollment fall from 8,300 students to its current level of 5,770. The loss of students resulted in a deep dip in revenue for the district.

"You have to take into account, if you cut a program or close a school, what will the overall impact be? You'll see that more students leave; it just exacerbates the problem," Haley said.

Those in the audience welcomed the opening of the new schools because of the convenience of their locales. Parents of current and future middle school students will be able to send their children to a school within walking distance of their homes rather than having them being forced to walk or being bused to Lawrence E. Jones Middle School on Snyder Lane.

“I was nervous about having my first child enter the school district, and I was looking at options outside of the district,” said Jessica Bush, who has 3-year-old twins who’ll eventually enter the school district. “When University at La Fiesta Elementary came about, I was really excited. I wanted to be involved. I’m really excited this other option for our school district is becoming a reality. We were going to be one of those families that was going to be lost to another district. I didn’t want to see that happen. I’m glad our kids will be able to enjoy the same school district.”

University’s first group will be comprised of 48 students ranging from kindergarten through the second grade. The school will be in partnership with Sonoma State University, which means possible jobs and hands-on experience for SSU students.

“I think that the partnership with Sonoma State and this type of program is the type that others are going to look at us and say 'We want that,’” board member Ed Gilardi said. “It's all about choice. It's something the community has asked for. We have been responsive to that.”

The CRPUSD board is doing everything it can to make the opening of the two schools as fiscally inexpensive as possible.

Opening Technology Middle School is projected to be to be $135,000, with ongoing annual expenses are initially expected to be between $14,600 and $22,000. The starting cost for University is projected to be $50,000, with annual costs are anticipated to be between $66,700 and $88,600.

The district’s plan calls for students at Monte Vista and Waldo Rohnert elementary schools to go to Technology, and students at Marguerite Hahn and Evergreen elementary schools to attend Lawrence Jones. There will be an open enrollment period when students can choose a campus other then the school in their neighborhoods.

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