Loma Alta School Community Pleads Their Case at PUSD Board Meeting

At least 150 people showed up at Tuesday night's meeting in an attempt to convince the board not to close Loma Alta Elementary

By Justin Chapman, Altadena Patch, 11/10/2010

With the Board of Education set to make their final decision this Tuesday on which schools will be closed next year in an effort to reduce the district's budget deficit, at least 150 people showed up to last night's board meeting to protest Elementary's proposed closure.
Parents, students, teachers, principals, community members and other stakeholders voiced their concerns during the public comment period. Out of more than 20 speakers, only one defended San Rafael Elementary, which was taken off the list of possible closures recently. No one spoke in defense of , the last of the two schools being considered for closure.
Though Loma Alta has a small student enrollment, it serves a major function for foster kids and special needs students, especially in Altadena. The highlight of the meeting came when Peter and Sandi Holden, who have been parents at Loma Alta for six years, spoke to the board and accompanied a blind and autistic young Loma Alta student named Sydney as she sang a heartfelt song called "Too Much Rain Fallin' Down On Me" to an overflowing and emotional room.
"The special needs programs at Loma Alta have done nothing but benefit my kids," Peter Holden said to the board members. "The success of this school is the success of the district. I hope that becomes your mantra."
Terrondus Chaney, who has had six kids go to Loma Alta, claimed the school is a perfect test model.
"We are a model of special education at that level," he said. "There are many programs in place that are working. Instead of cutting, how about we uncut? Let's invest in this school and you'll see the good that will come of it. Then that formula can be applied to the system as a whole."
Loma Alta and Burbank have both been at the center of the school closure discussion since they were along with last month for closure by an all-volunteer committee.  Jackson was later at a PUSD meeting where a huge group of Jackson parents showed up.
The purpose of closing the school's is to partially account for budget shortfalls, but also because of declining enrollment across the district that has many schools running below half capacity.
Many speakers on Tuesday pointed out the inclusive nature of the school that creates curriculums embracing students needs. Others said they don't believe school closures in general are the answer to budget woes. One parent read a letter by Congressman Adam Schiff addressing the board in which he stated his opinion that he believes PUSD is going the wrong way by closing schools and that he's "gravely concerned with the situation."
Others spoke to the concern that school closures will lead to more charter schools, which will increase the decline in student enrollment in local public schools and compound the budget problem in the long run.
While the level of enthusiasm for Loma Alta was very high, its principal, Eric Sahakian, expressed disappointment about his school even being considered for closure, though he remains hopeful.
"Any closure is disheartening," he said with a sigh. "Our school has been making progress, but I guess we'll see what happens."
Denise Laing, a 20-year teacher in PUSD and 18 years at Loma Alta, believes it's unfair for the board to even consider closing more schools in Altadena. In December 2005 the board voted to shutter Noyes, Linda Vista and Edison Elementaries, all of which have since been used as charter school campuses.
"It's very counterproductive to have parents put money into neighborhood schools and then to have it yanked right out from under us," said Laing. "There has been an historic difference in the treatment of Altadena versus Pasadena schools."
One parent, Naomi Sigera, pointed out that closing schools in Altadena will have the long-term effect of pushing people out of town.
By law board members are not allowed to respond to public comments made at their meetings, but with standing room only, people pouring out into the hallway and audience members holding up signs that read "Save our school," "Don't close our school/Loma Alta's a jewel," and "We support Loma Alta," that school community's message was loud and clear.
And board members can bet on another packed meeting this Tuesday when they make their final decision.