BARSTOW• Inside a cramped room at the Barstow Unified School District headquarters Tuesday night, more than 100 heard the votes: Unanimous for Thomson Elementary, 4-1 for Hinkley School — closing both following the 2012-13 school year.
The vote to close Thomson came early and yielded no public comment.
Afterward, much of the near-two hours leading up to the Hinkley School vote was occupied by parents and relatives of students there, seemingly exasperated, they implored the school board to hold off on making a decision.
The lone "no" vote came from school board member Barbara Rose.
"It's not just a school — it's our community. It's all we have left." explained Joelle Depue, mother to a Hinkley School student. "C'mon, give us our school. That's all we want."
The sentiment was echoed by more than a dozen supporters in the crowd, many who have grown weary of the devastation to their community caused by years of water issues.
Jeff Malan, BUSD superintendent, told the room he had been in contact with PG&E "numerous times" since mid-December and requested a financial assistance from the company that would have saved the school. PG&E declined, he said.
A committee will be formed to decide what should be done with each school, Malan said. They'll look at possibly selling each site in a public bid option or repurposing them as charter or magnet schools, he said.
Where each student from Thomson and Hinkley will go, and how that process will be determined, is yet to be fully decided, according to Malan, which left many in the audience wondering about possible overcrowding and transportation problems.
After comments were heard from the public, Ben Rosenberg, school board president, spoke of his fondness for both schools, as did many of the other board members. He assured the crowd that the education transitioning students would receive would be "just as good anywhere" within the school district.
The crowd responded with a resounding "No!"
Members of the school board also expressed appreciation of public support — overwhelmingly displayed on behalf of Hinkley School — and repeated the difficulty involved in making such decisions.
Staff from both schools were notified last Wednesday of the possible closures and parents of students were informed last Thursday.
The board's approval of Malan's recommendation will result in the elimination of both principal positions and the jobs of 15 to 20 teachers and 35 to 40 support personnel, Malan said last Thursday, and comes as the school district is being forced to address declining enrollment and severe budget shortfalls — an ongoing state issue which prompted school board member Julie Clemmer to put the focus on Sacramento.
"They have decided," she said, "education is not a priority in this state."
Shea Johnson may be reached at (760) 256-4126 or at SJohnson@DesertDispatch.com.