People who were hoping the Davenport Community School District board would have a revelation akin to Saul on the road to Damascus were sorely disappointed after the board's April 22 meeting. Instead of being blinded by the brilliance of sensible alternatives, the board replicated its 6-1 January vote to close Grant and Johnson elementary schools. Only Patt Zamora voted against the closures.

The vote ended a process that began in March, when the school district decided to "re-examine" its January 28 vote to close the schools. An appeal by parents - based on the district's actions prior to its January vote - forced the district to re-start the closing process. That process included two public meetings and a task force that explored cost-saving alternatives to closing the schools.

With a final vote taken, the parents' appeal is set to resume May 1.

The closings are meant to address the district's growing budget deficit, which the administration claims will be near $4 million by the end of the fiscal year, June 30. The savings from closing the schools is estimated to be approximately $1.2 million. The district also voted January 28 to increase class size by two students, saving nearly $1 million.

A dozen parents and community members spoke to the board on Monday, mostly sounding bitter and resigned about the vote. One parent stressed that the board had alternatives to closing the schools: "You are choosing to close these schools," he said. "You're not being forced to close these schools."

School-board members justified their votes meekly.

Steve Imming (who served on a task force) critiqued alternatives presented to the board. But his analysis was flawed on several levels. First, while he faulted each alternative, he didn't compare their impact to that of closing schools. Second, he only addressed lettered alternatives, and not additional options - such as cutting administrators' salaries and requiring district employees to take an unpaid day off - prepared by parents and included in packets the board was given.

On one alternative - making non-union employees pay $87 a month for family health insurance - Imming essentially cast his lot with high-paid administrators instead of schoolchildren at Grant and Johnson, small neighborhood schools. "I don't think it's fair to single out one group of employees," he said. Yet the district is asking union employees to contribute to their health-insurance premiums.

Imming closed with a plea that parents not pull their students from Davenport public schools. "If you're that upset, you can take it out on me at the ballot box in September," he said.

Richard Clewell appeared to contradict himself. First, he said the closures of Johnson and Grant should be considered infrastructure, rather than education, issues. He claimed that judging the educational impact of closures was purely subjective.

But, in addressing task-force alternatives, Clewell said, "I can't support those I feel have a direct impact on the quality of education." Yet among the 13 lettered alternatives given to the board, only two or three could be argued to have a "direct impact on the quality of education."

Clewell also didn't address those alternatives that wouldn't have any educational impact, except to say, in reference to employees paying health-insurance premiums, "There are alternatives that are viable. ... There are things in here we need to continue to look at."

Other board members also justified their votes by saying they'll probably consider the cost-cutting alternatives at a future date, because the district's financial condition isn't getting any better.

"The deficit is larger than closing these schools will generate," said Susan Low.

"We have to close these schools, and this is just the start," said Jim Hester.

What they didn't say was that the parents - led by Alan Guard - proposed a package of cuts that could save the district $4.3 million. Only one component of that package - eliminating nine facilitators - would have any arguable impact on education at all, beyond the district's already-approved increase in class sizes.

Most ridiculous of all was a comment by Mavis Lee, who claimed that the task force didn't produce any alternatives that the board hadn't already rejected. "I can't say it has revealed anything that we didn't consider," she said.

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