LIVERMORE — The need for big budget reductions could lead to the closure of a Livermore school, deep cuts to high school sports and other drastic measures, school leaders said Tuesday.
Livermore Unified officials are considering closing Portola Elementary to create one K-8 campus at Junction Avenue Middle School — a move that could save nearly $380,000 a year.
But it could undo academic progress made by students at Portola — one of the poorest and most diverse schools in the area, parents and teachers argued at Tuesday's board meeting.
This year's budget must be shaved by some $6 million in response to continued state cutbacks in education funding. Closing Portola is just one of many options being considered, officials said.
Other suggestions presented by Superintendent Brenda Miller include slashing $100,000 from high school athletics, eliminating elementary school music, negotiating with teachers for raise freezes and/or salary cuts and other measures.
"We're certainly in uncharted waters," said board member Stewart Gary.
The district has already made $13 million in cuts during the past two years, and this next round is expected to hit even closer to the bone.
Worsening Livermore's budget crunch is declining enrollment, which affects how much per-student money the district gets from the state. Enrollment at the 337-student Portola has declined 35 percent since 1999, making it an "obvious place to start the discussion," said Gary.
Portola is in its fourth year of program improvement for failing to meet test targets under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Schools in their fourth year must make major overhauls, such as replacing staff or restructuring in some way, said assistant superintendent Mike Martinez.
Still, Portola's test scores continue to climb, and it fell just shy of escaping program improvement this year when its English-learners didn't meet the math target, but they hit their English-language target.
It's a big coup considering that 64 percent of Portola students are English learners, supporters said.
"We have made remarkable gains, yet too often out in the community we're known as that underperforming school," said teacher Susanne Tupper.
Parents, some speaking Spanish and aided by a translator, lauded Portola's "dual immersion program," in which native Spanish and English speakers learn to speak both languages in the classroom. They pleaded with trustees to keep the program even if Portola is combined with Junction Avenue.
"My daughter is reading in both languages at grade level. We have some of the best bi-lingual teachers," said parent Mercedes Camacho.
Trustees stressed that no decisions have been made yet. A committee will first decide whether the restructuring can be done in a way to fulfill student needs. The board won't vote on that plan or decide on other cuts until later this year, they said.
Board president Kate Runyon, whose children attended Portola, choked up. "All these students are members of the community and we need them all to learn," she said. "But doing what's best is not necessarily keeping all sites open."
Jeanine Benca covers Livermore. Reach her at 925-847-2125.