Saugus district discusses future of Santa Clarita Elementary

File photo of the Saugus Union School District.

Due to the seismic needs of the structure and the projected declining enrollment at the school, the Saugus Union School District governing board held a study session on Thursday to learn about what the future of Santa Clarita Elementary could be.  

During the presentation, Superintendent Colleen Hawkins laid out the options that were before the school district, whether that be to fix the school or shutter it, and plans to do so may include passing a bond measure to keep up with seismic renovations on the campus and/or gradually transitioning the students off the campus while the district decides what to do with the campus.  

Among the various issues discussed about keeping the school open was the projected need to make the $24 million in improvements needed at the school to ensure the building is up to state safety standards for earthquakes. According to Saugus district staff, the district has $66,628,000 in seismic improvement projects across various campuses.  

Additionally, the school is projected to see a decrease in enrollment until 2028. Presently there are 319 students attending Santa Clarita Elementary and, by 2028, after many years of declining enrollment, there will be a projected 285 students.  

During the presentation, Hawkins emphasized that the Thursday night meeting was simply a study session, to provide more depth and information to the community. No action, she said, would be taken, but the board would need to take action in the future because the district cannot do nothing.  

As for the guiding principles in making their decision — whether to close the school or keep it open — the district said they would be prioritizing: keeping students, staff and visitors safe during possible construction; students and staff having the best possible educational environment during construction; the district being fiscally responsible with the tax dollars being provided; and creating a refreshed 21st century school space for current and future students.  

Other things the district will need to consider, Hawkins said, included: re-envisioning the site as a whole; re-envisioning programs offered at the school and addressing declining enrollment and construction.  

Three possible solutions for the district to consider should the district begin to phase students off the campus include:    

  • Transferring all students until a solution can be found. 
  • Transferring half of the grades at a time until a solution can be found.  
  • Phasing out new enrollment while allowing current students to matriculate. 

The third option of phasing out new enrollment was expanded upon extensively by Hawkins, who said it would possibly include not allowing new transitional kindergarten, kindergarten and first grade students to enroll at the site beginning in 2022 and continuing through the 2025-2026 school year until the district would need to reassess once again.  

One of the factors the board will need to weigh as well is what they wish to ask of the taxpayer if they should seek a bond for not only completing all their seismic improvements at their campuses, but also to build enough classroom space on campuses for the new age group — 4-year-olds.   

“The current estimate to make these seismic corrections in the district is over $66 million and the other part of that is in California TK or transitional kindergarten there is going to be another grade,” said Nick Heinlein, assistant superintendent of business services. “So, it’s not that just 5-year-olds get to go to public school. It’s now all 4-year-olds get to go to public school. And so we have to create additional classrooms that look like kindergarten classrooms, but will be used for transitional kindergarten.” 

“Take that $66 million, subtract $24 million, and add that TK component,” said Heinlein, explaining a possible scenario should the district not immediately take action on making seismic fixes at Santa Clarita Elementary. “And then that would be a new amount for a bond to take care of the seismic issues at all the other district sites, but also create appropriate space for transitional kindergarten students.” 

Possible future steps could include a voter opinion survey that could be done in April 2022, and that Santa Clarita Elementary families wishing to be transferred for 2022-2023 could enroll at North Park, Mountainview or West Creek Elementary. 

The next regular board for the Saugus Union School District board meeting is set for Tuesday.  

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