GULLIXSON: When schools are mired in the middle

It's common knowledge among those who coach Little League that practicing on school playing fields in Santa Rosa is a crapshoot. You get what you get.

The grass is sometimes so high, you're better off having the kids stay on the blacktop where they can at least find a grounder — if not field one.

But the problem of unkempt fields has gotten noticeably worse in recent years. The conditions during a soccer game I attended in the fall were particularly atrocious. The field was a patchwork of hard ground and grass groves, spots so thick they were dead zones for any rolling sphere. In addition, two sprinkler heads had not fully retracted, forcing a coach to cover them with orange safety cones. In several locations, there were mud puddles the size of dining room tables, apparently the products of a malfunctioning watering system.

And if my son and his teammates managed to maneuver around those obstacles, there were, we discovered later, potholes scattered around the field like land mines.

<NO1><NO>An image that has stayed with me since is of my 13-year-old's best friend Blake picking himself up after having fallen chest-first in a puddle while going for the ball. As he held his muddy hands far away from his body, he was clearly embarrassed and frustrated. So were the rest of us.

But he kept playing. Why? Because that's all he knows. If he and his friends want to play soccer, this is what they get. This is what we give them.

That picture came to mind as I talked with Santa Rosa School Board President Larry Haenel over coffee on Thursday. Haenel looks a little worn on the edges himself these days, sort of like that soccer field.

This controversy about closing or not closing Doyle Park Elementary School has taken its toll. He describes it as a "roller coaster," but it's not clear what the high points have been. The only one I can see is possibly the settlement of the lawsuit that was filed over how the school was closed. But even that's iffy.

The deal reached last week assures Doyle Park will remain open at least one more year. The school will enroll up to 180 students and share the campus with the French-American charter school. Meanwhile, the district will continue to explore starting a Spanish language dual immersion school.

Sounds good. But there are plenty of unknowns. Some will be answered on June 7, the date by which Doyle Park parents need to pick a school for their child. If any of the classes third grade and under end up with fewer than 18 students, they will be considered "not financially feasible" and those students, most likely, will be moved to other schools. The same will be true of fourth-, fifth- and sixth-grade classes if any have fewer than 25 students.

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