Board votes to reopen two Rohnert Park schools

Within a span of about 15 minutes Tuesday night, the Cotati-Rohnert Park School Board cast two separate votes that paved the way for the opening of two new schools in the fall -- a move that some board members said marks the resurrection of a district that has long suffered declining enrollment and budget woes.

The two 4-0 votes mean the former Mountain Shadows Middle School on Burton Avenue will open in the fall to an inaugural class of sixth- and seventh-graders under the name Technology Middle School. Eighth-graders will be added to the campus in 2014-15.

In a separate unanimous vote, trustees approved the reopening of the shuttered La Fiesta Elementary School campus as University Elementary School at La Fiesta in a partnership with Sonoma State University. The inaugural group of 48 students will serve kindergarten through second grade.

"I think that the partnership with Sonoma State and this type of program is the type that others are going to look at us and say 'We want that,' " Trustee Ed Gilardi said. "It's all about choice. It's something the community has asked for. We have been responsive to that."

La Fiesta and Gold Ridge Elementary were both closed amid a flurry of budget cuts in 2008. Mountain Shadows Middle School was closed in 2010.

The district has long been hammered by the double hits of declining enrollment and deep cuts in funding from Sacramento.

But closing campuses didn't prove to be an effective solution, said Superintendent Robert Haley, who took the lead role in the district in 2011.

"You have to take into account, if you cut a program or close a school, what will the overall impact be? You'll see that more students leave; it just exacerbates the problem," he said

Enrollment at the district has fallen from 8,300 in 2000 to 5,770 today.

For years, a fiscal minder from the Sonoma County Office of Education has had "stay and rescind" authority over district spending.

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