Parents and teachers at Playa del Rey Elementary School in the Del Rey area rejoiced after learning that they received an early Christmas present recently — the popular school would be saved from closure by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

The school district Board of Education is considering closing schools that have a student population lower than 300, and Playa del Rey Elementary, which states on its Web site that it has 239, was rumored to be one of the ill-fated schools on the district’s list.

But prior to the December 9th board meeting, parents learned that a decision to consider closing the school had been tabled.

A.J. Duffy, the president of United Teachers Los Angeles, said that he had spoken with Ramon Cortines, the district’s newly appointed superintendent, about the school remaining open.

“Cortines gave me his assurances that the school will not be closed,” said Duffy.

Del Rey resident Alan Krumme wrote in an e-mail following the school board’s decision, “Due to the hard work of our teachers, parents and community members, Playa del Rey Elementary is safe for now, but our community cannot be complacent.”

Julia Chien, a pre-kindergarten teacher at the pre-kindergarten-through-fifth-grade school, told The Argonaut that Playa del Rey Elementary principal Mary Pierce received a call from school board member Marlene Canter’s office informing them that the school was off the list of vulnerable sites.

Teachers received an e-mail from Duffy as well, confirming that the school would be saved.

“We were really concerned about saving our school,” said Chien, who has taught at Playa del Rey Elementary for eight years and lives close to the school. “It’s a wonderful community.”

Parents rallied at the beginning of December to make the case that their school should remain untouched by the district budget ax after learning that plans were being considered to close certain schools to save money.

They say that the relationship between the teachers and parents is exceptionally strong, and point to the level of community service that the students are involved with throughout the community.

The school district is grappling with unprecedented budget cuts, as state legislators look for ways to cut expenditures in the face of a massive $22 billion state deficit.

L.A. Unified chief financial officer Megan Reilly has stated that the district will be facing a $400 million shortfall this year from its $8.6 billion budget, and stands to lose another $200 million to $400 million in 2009-2010.

Over the summer, L.A. Unified slashed nearly 700 jobs in an attempt to balance its books.

“It would be a shame to completely lose this school,” Lynette Conover, whose daughter attends Playa del Rey Elementary, said prior to the school board meeting.

With Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office calling for millions of dollars in cutbacks from school budgets, coupled with the district’s proposed plan to consider eliminating or consolidating certain schools in an effort to save money, educators, administrators and parents with children at Playa del Rey Elementary had grown increasingly anxious in recent weeks. Some were planning to attend the school board meeting to make certain that the board was aware of their feelings on losing the elementary school prior to learning that the school would remain open for the rest of the year.

“In my opinion, it’s a very high-quality school,” said John Buckley, a Del Rey homeowner who plans to send his daughter to Playa del Rey Elementary next year. “It has a real community feel to it, and in an era where LAUSD is increasing class sizes, we can’t afford to lose our dedicated teaching staff to budget cuts.”

Schwarzenegger is seeking to slash $2.5 billion from the state school budget in mid-year cuts, which has forced L.A. Unified to make up the lost revenue elsewhere.

In September, “teacher furlough” days were eliminated, drawing the ire of the teachers union, which filed a grievance against the school district.

The prospect of consolidation of schools by the board, particularly when there are several elementary schools in the local area and a new one planned to open at Playa Vista within the next few years, also contributed to the Del Rey community’s anxiety about the potential of losing their neighborhood school.

Duffy believes that the new school that the district plans to open in Playa Vista could be used for things other than a traditional school.

“They could have professional development training for teachers there, workshops, or use it as a science center,” he suggested.

The concern about possibly closing schools is statewide. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times in November, Scott Plotkin, executive director of the California School Boards Association, discussed how superintendents across California are struggling with the budget dilemma and the effects that it will have on teachers and students.

“I was on the phone with one superintendent who doesn’t know how she would do this without closing schools in May rather than June,” he said. “I’ve heard others talk about closing on Fridays.

“This would constitute the first year-to-year reduction in dollars for schools in California since the Great Depression.”

Even though the news that Playa del Rey Elementary will remain open brought a sense of relief, a number of teachers and parents remain wary about the possibility that their school could become the target of budget cuts in the future.

“We know that the district can change their minds at any time,” Krumme wrote. “This is still a major issue for other small schools in our community, so continued support is necessary for all of our small community schools.”

Buckley, who is an area director for the Del Rey Neighborhood Council, also said that while the news about the school remaining open is welcome, the community must stay vigilant.

“We’re still a little leery that [the school board] might consider us for closure again,” Buckley acknowledged. “They often pick and choose their words carefully, and we’re going to keep our eyes on this.”

Chien added, “We want to urge the district to keep its word. We’re really trying to be optimistic.”

Calls to school board member Canter’s office were had not been returned at Argonaut press time.

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