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San Jose charter school closes due to declining enrollment and $1.3 million budget deficit


San Jose charter school closes due to declining enrollment and $1.3 million budget deficit

More than 200 students at DCP Alum Rock High School, a small charter school in San Jose, will have to transfer when the campus closes this summer — a victim of declining enrollment and a hefty budget deficit it cannot overcome and keep the campus open.

Downtown College Prep – which operates the high school and three other campuses in San Jose – voted on the closure earlier this month.

“I know once the board said ‘yes, we recommend closing it,’ we took a breath…and once we walked out that door, it was just (a blow),” said Madison Christian Sumpter, a junior at DCP Alum Rock High School.

Like many other schools in the school has seen a 30% decrease in enrollment from the 2019-2020 school year, when the COVID-19 pandemic upended school life. DCP administration said it would have to eliminate nearly half of the school’s staff to create a balanced budget.

DCP’s Chief Executive Officer, Pete Settelmayer, said 205 students enrolled at Alum Rock High School did not provide enough state attendance revenue to support all of the school’s services. He said the campus was facing a $1.5 to $1.7 million deficit.

“We had to start asking ourselves, at what point are we doing a disservice to our students?” he said. “It’s not just about numbers. We know that when you close a school, it’s a community, it’s a family. That’s hard. It’s the last thing anyone wants to do. But the flip side is, am I going to be able to provide them with a place that will serve all of their needs?”

The school’s community has pushed back against the decision. And two students have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Juniors Gracie Jaqueline Lopez and Sumpter have started a Change.org petition to try and keep the school open.

“The reason I chose to come to (Alum Rock High School) is because we’re a small community and a community that treats each other like family,” Lopez said in a YouTube video encouraging the community to sign the petition. “You’re not going to find teachers anywhere else that have this much dedication to their students. Especially when I lost someone very special to me, my teacher and the staff members all came together and supported me.”

Sumpter said the high school’s staff helped her get through the loss of her father in March 2021. She said she thinks she would have had a tougher time processing the loss at a bigger school, which would have lacked DCP Alum Rock’s small community and family mindset.

“If I got overwhelmed in class, they would let me take a breather,” Sumpter said. “They understood it was a tough time.”

DCP Alum Rock’s closure announcement comes as schools across the state are facing dire financial situations due to declining enrollment, reduced funding and the drying-up of one-time COVID-19 funds.

Oakland Unified School District is also facing a severe budget deficit – nearly $23.6 million – and has discussed merging 10 of its campuses by 2025 in an effort to save money.

San Francisco Unified’s superintendent Matt Wayne announced a plan to consolidate schools earlier this month.

“Our resources are simply stretched too thin and it’s impacting our ability to deliver the quality education San Francisco’s children deserve.To create the schools our students deserve and our families expect, we must have fewer schools than we do now,” Wayne said in a video to the district’s community.

At a March 19 board meeting, Alum Rock Union School District’s superintendent Hilaria Bauer – who was unexpectedly fired later that night – said the district — which is not related to DCP Alum Rock High — would have to close five schools to address its $20.8 million budget deficit. Bauer said families moving out of the area, low birth rates and charter schools have caused the district’s enrollment to continue to decline.

Kolvira Chheng the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, explained that the district has lost about 5,000 students since 2015, but is still operating 22 school campuses.

“Five (school closures) is very conservative,” Chheng said at the board meeting. “With the number of students that we’re serving, realistically we should be at almost half of the schools that we’re offering right now.”

But the announcement by Downtown College Prep shows that charter schools have also been hit hard by declining enrollment.

Sunnyvale Charter School Summit Denali closed last summer after the school’s parent organization, Summit Public Schools, announced the school was facing a $4.5 million deficit. It was the second Summit school to close in recent years, after Summit Rainier in San Jose closed in 2019.

Downtown College Prep said students at Alum Rock High School will be transferred to El Primero High School. Or the charter said it will help students find a new school if they choose not to attend El Primero DCP said it is actively reaching out to other charter schools to extend their enrollment deadlines to students affected by the closure.

Downtown College Prep also said it will ease the transition by offering transportation to students attending El Primero from DCP Alum Rock Middle School. The district will also change F’s on students’ transcripts to D’s – due to the unique grading system at the charter school – and offer scholarships to seniors.

“Alum Rock High School is not just a school where we learn,” Lopez and Sumpter said in the petition to save Alum Rock. “At our school we are not just friends but we are truly family and Alum Rock High School has not only helped a lot of kids overcome the challenges that they faced but also helped students become the first in their families to attend college.”

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