The board of trustees of the Gilroy Unified School District voted Sept. 5 to close its first elementary school in 17 years, and one of its newest: Antonio Del Buono in north Gilroy.
The school board vote, with trustee Enrique Diaz objecting, followed a gloomy report of a continuing steady decline in enrollment.
The TK-5 school, at 9300 Wren Ave., was built in 1999 and at one point had nearly 800 students. Enrollment in the current school year is 452, and the school had the biggest decline in enrollment of any of the district’s eight elementary schools, officials said. Only 313 students actually live in the school’s attendance area.
Antonio Del Buono will close at the end of the 2019-20 school year.
For Antonio Del Buono principal Velia Codiga, fighting back tears in a Sept. 9 interview, the decision’s impact on people is paramount: “I’m looking at human beings that are here, and how everybody is feeling. People are saying, ‘What’s going to happen to all of us?’ ”
For Gilroy Supt. Debbie Flores, it’s about keeping the school district solvent: “We have to be fiscally responsible and have a balanced budget,” she said in a Sept. 10 interview.
Both women in the spotlight are dealing with forces largely beyond their control.
At this time, the school district does not anticipate lay-offs as a result of the school closure, said Flores.
Beginning in August 2020, current Antonio Del Buono students will attend either one of the other two northside elementary schools, Luigi Aprea or Rucker, based on classroom availability and boundaries.
Most Antonio Del Buono staff will likely be assigned to one of these schools, said Melanie Corona, the district’s public information director.
The closing will save the district about $750,000 per year in operating expenses, said Flores. Declining enrollments continue to hurt district finances: Every student generates about $9,000 in state aid.
Flores said her staff had concluded that the Antonio Del Buono campus is the most expensive to maintain, among all eight city elementary schools.
Flores met with the school’s staff twice in the past two weeks, and spoke at the school’s back-to-school night, where she told about 150 parents the board would be considering closing the school. “Of course, there was a lot of sadness and disappointment,” she said.
Flores followed that up with a letter, in Spanish and English, to all of the school’s parents on Sept. 4, the day before the board vote.
“We are already working very hard to minimize the impact as much as possible for our students, staff members and parents,” she wrote, informing them that a special district committee had recommended closing their school.
Attached with the letter was a lengthy Q&A document.
Codiga said she and her staff had expected the decision, even before the Aug. 22 school board meeting when closing Antonio Del Buono was named as the only option before the board.
“We weren’t surprised it was us—we always thought it was going to be us,” she told the Gilroy Dispatch this week. But Codiga said she and her staff were surprised to hear their school was the most expensive to operate.
“That came as a shock to us, not that we were on the list, but that we were the only school on the list—that was a shock to us,” she said. “We thought there would be a few schools to pick from.”
Codiga spoke to the district trustees on Sept. 5.
“My speech at the board meeting basically said, ‘We know we’re going to be closed, so just make a decision so we can move forward, because this is very difficult for us. Not that I wanted it to be us, but we are the only one on the list, so if you are going to do it, then do it—rip the bandaid off!’ ”
The district’s announcement Sept. 6 emphasized the grim realities facing the district.
“After months of deliberation…the Unified School District Board of Education voted to close Antonio Del Buono Elementary School in the summer of 2020. This was a very difficult decision for the board and staff but was necessary to help balance the budget during difficult financial times.
“The district’s enrollment has steadily dropped over the past few years and is projected to decline for many years to come. The decline of over 400 students in three years has resulted in a loss of revenue of about $5 million. Declining enrollment is now occurring in 25 school districts in Santa Clara and in most districts in the Bay Area.
“This decline is the result of many factors including a significant drop in the birth rate, the exodus of families to parts of the state and county with lower housing costs, and lower student generation rates from new housing. In an effort to balance the district’s budget and be fiscally responsible, the district office has implemented over $4 million in cuts as far away from the classroom as possible.”
For Codiga, the memories and the pain are personal. Her two daughters attended Antonio Del Buono when she was principal. “I’ve been with many of the teachers for many years, so it’s going to be difficult.”
For Flores, the future isn’t much different than the present. “If this trend continues, my guess is the district will have to look at another closure down the road,” she said.
“This has been a really painful process,” she added. “There were tears all over the boardroom last week.”
“We believe the school staff and principal have done a great job. This isn’t about the job they do, it’s about balancing our budget.”
All backup material presented to the school board Sept. 5 can be found at www.gilroyunified.org/parentstudent-resources/gusd-enrollment-trends