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Horgan: San Bruno faces a public education dilemma

Horgan: San Bruno faces a public education dilemma
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Closing a school is never easy. Closing more than one compounds the pain. Officials of the San Bruno Park Elementary School District are faced with that difficult reality.

The district’s Board of Trustees has decided to shutter two of its seven schools – El Crystal and Rollingwood – in order to save money and, perhaps, attain some modest economies of scale in the bargain.

Few are happy about the move. But the numbers don’t lie. The district, which has been struggling with serious budgetary issues for years, has been unable to see much, if any, significant enrollment growth over the last two decades, and all six of its elementary schools suffer from enrollments below 400.

Only Parkside Intermediate School is above that figure, with about 800 students.

In all, the district’s pupil total is roughly 2,700. It was 2,800 in 1996. So there has been very little movement over those intervening years.

In 1970, enrollment stood at just over 4,800. Then the bottom dropped out, as it did throughout San Mateo County. The post-World War II baby boom turned into a baby bust. San Bruno Park has never really recovered from that.

Compounding the situation is what appears to be a strong desire by trustees and others for a tax increase, either a construction bond measure or a parcel tax. Shutting down two campuses, it is feared, would not be helpful in securing passage of any citizen-approved levy. But that’s a calculated risk that authorities seem willing to take.

Furthermore, the San Bruno community is well-known for its skepticism, not to say disdain, when it comes to tax increases, especially for public education.

The school district’s constituents have been through this before. San Bruno Park has closed several schools in the past. The city lost one of its two comprehensive high schools, Crestmoor, due to low enrollment in 1980.

This history of academic loss tends to color anything that’s on the table now in that North County community.

Unspoken issue

Last week’s publication of the latest business plan developed for the construction of the state’s high-speed rail system contained more than its share of important fresh information, not the least of which involved a potential price tag exceeding $77 billion.

That number is a far cry from the original $34-$40 billion full-completion price tag promulgated by the proposal’s backers ten years ago when the fast train plan was placed on the statewide ballot (and approved by the blissfully unaware voters) as Proposition 1A.

But there is one aspect of this project that continues to receive little or no scrutiny on any sort of regular basis: What the actual operating costs of such a setup would eventually be and whether subsidies from the state (taxpayers) would be required to make up for a possible shortfall.

It’s one thing to examine one-time construction expenditures; it’s quite another to analyze annual operating outlays and any potential deficits.

Banquet tickets

Some seats are still available for the 28th Peninsula Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner at the Westin SFO Hotel in Millbrae on March 29.



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