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Letter: Uptown Paso needs an elementary school 

letter to the editor

To the editor,

– Uptown Paso needs an elementary school. We have two options. Since the 1940s, Paso’s westside students have been served by two elementary schools. Today, that schooling occurs at Glen Speck (downtown on 17th St) and Georgia Brown (uptown on 36th). Georgia Brown is home to the district’s popular dual-language immersion (DI) program.

Together, these schools serve most of the westside’s population. Speck’s student body is largely low-income. Georgia Brown serves a wealthier population on average (many of whom drive to campus from across town or out of town), but half of its students are from the westside, and many are from the immediate surrounding neighborhood, which is largely low-income and Spanish-speaking. Georgia Brown’s high enrollment means that, like Speck, it serves a large number of vulnerable students. In fact, the two schools serve nearly identical numbers of low-income students with disabilities (around 60 per school).

The district plans to reconfigure the DI program into a K-8 program at one of the middle school campuses, while consolidating the two existing middle schools into a single junior high serving grades 7-8. The school board must now choose the location (Lewis or Flamson) for each of these programs. At play are (among other factors) Flamson’s westside location, its substantially higher design capacity (with 38 classrooms compared to Lewis’s 29), its two-story structure, and its superior athletics facilities.

As the board makes its decision, maintaining educational access for the vulnerable westside students is a must. In a recent Georgia Brown survey, 17% of respondents indicated that their student walks to school. (With a student population of over 600, this suggests that around 100 Georgia Brown students walk). Of these walkers, 39% indicated that they would not be able to follow the DI program if it moved across town. That is, around 40 uptown students would be forced to disrupt their educational progress by dropping out of DI. These are likely to be among the lowest-income students served by the district. Should they move to their next-nearest elementary school, Speck would be shouldered with absorbing and educating even more of the westside’s most vulnerable.

It would be unconscionable to leave the entire westside with a single elementary program. To decide otherwise could likely expose the district to legal actions and discrimination allegations. Talks of school closure should also provoke serious scrutiny of the Measure M spending, which has proceeded with little to no public oversight since 2020.

As I see it, there are two options to avoid committing an egregious injustice on the westside:
(1) Place the DI K-8 program at Flamson.
(2) Rebuild a small elementary campus on 36th St, and place the DI K-8 program at Lewis.

Under Scenario 1, the district would place the Georgia Brown DI K-8 program at Flamson, 0.9 miles from the program’s current 36th St campus. This would:

  • Give the uptown DI students continued access to elementary- and junior high-level education (at Flamson).
  • Reduce crosstown traffic by educating more students on their own side of town. (Hundreds fewer east-side students in particular would need to drive across town for junior high.)
  • Maintain junior high walkability for the non-DI students near Lewis. (Many of the families near enough to walk to Lewis are low-income.)
  • Allow the DI program to maintain its current size of 112 students in each kindergarten class, while also growing the program from K-5 to K-8. (To facilitate this growth, substantial investments will be necessary in the recruitment of highly skilled DI teachers by, for example, hiring credentialed teachers from Spanish-speaking countries. This is common practice in DI programs across the state.)
  • Maintain the uptown’s access to preexisting after school care at the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Tom Maas Clubhouse.

 

Importantly, relocating the DI program to a middle school campus cannot occur without displacing someone. Under Scenario 1, it would be the westside’s non-DI (i.e. Speck) students who would need to drive across town for junior high (at Lewis). Many of these students are from vulnerable families. The district would need to commit to the long-term transportation of these students during their junior high years.

Under Scenario 2, the district would move the DI K-8 program to Lewis (3.1 miles from the program’s current location) AND rebuild a smaller K-6 school at the 36th St site. This would:

  • Give the entire westside continued access to elementary- and junior high-level education (at Speck, 36th St, and Flamson).
  • Place the town’s main junior high at Flamson, a large two-story campus with better sports facilities than at Lewis.
  • Maintain (as in Scenario 1) the uptown’s access to preexisting after school care at the Boys & Girls Clubs’ Tom Maas Clubhouse.
  • Prevent the closure of the 36th St campus, to the benefit of both the uptown community and the entire district. (After all, enrollment could very well rebound after the construction of numerous housing developments in the works.)

 

Downsides of this plan include the cost of rebuilding the 36th St campus, the displacement of the westside’s DI students (who would need to drive across town to Lewis from kindergarten through eighth grade), and the displacement of the eastside’s non-DI students (who would need to drive across town to Flamson for junior high). Again, investments in transportation would be a must.

Another potential downside of moving DI to Lewis is that the DI program would need to permanently shrink from around 112 students per grade (4 kindergarten classes) to only 84 students per grade (3 classes) in order to fit on the Lewis campus. This would reduce access to one of the district’s most popular programs and could meaningfully exacerbate the district’s problem of declining enrollment if families that do not get into the DI program seek out charter, private, or out-of-town alternatives. (This problem could be alleviated if the district opened a second DI program on a different campus, such as at the rebuilt 36th St school.)

Placing the DI K-8 program at Lewis without rebuilding 36th St should not be an option. In that scenario, uptown elementary students would be abandoned: forced to walk or take the city bus to Speck (19 blocks south) or maybe Kermit King (3 miles east). Under the district’s mismanagement, the 36th St campus has suffered from decades of neglect, allowing it to fall into such a decrepit state that it must be rebuilt as opposed to repaired. This is in no way the fault of the neighboring uptown community. It is time for PRJUSD to show that they will not leave the westside behind.

-Sara Lopus
Paso Robles

Sara Lopus is an associate professor in Cal Poly’s Department of Social Sciences and a newly-inducted member of the Citizen’s Bond Oversight Committee for Measure M.


Editor’s note: Opinion pieces and letters to the editor are the personal opinions of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Paso Robles Daily News or its staff. We welcome letters from local residents regarding relevant local topics. To submit one, click here.

 

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