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Sunday, December 16 , 2018, 7:52 pm | Fair 56º


El Puente Community School to Shut Its Doors in June

Plunging enrollment, chronic budget shortfall to send 66 transitional students back to their home districts

El Puente Community School in Santa Barbara will be closing in June since the school is losing money every year from low enrollment.

The school at 430 E. Gutierrez St. is run by the Santa Barbara County Education Office. Students attend short term while making the transition back to school from Los Prietos Boys Camp and Juvenile Hall, or are referred through social services, the county Probation Department or school district expulsions. They can also attend voluntarily.

The County Education Office staffs the school for the entire year, but has a varying number of students at any given time, spokeswoman Wendy Shelton said.

El Puente served 328 students in the 2010-2011 school year. Enrollment has dropped to 133 students so far this year, with 66 students currently.

With the closure, students will all return to their home districts — 62 to the Santa Barbara Unified School District and four to the Carpinteria Unified School District.

“I’m not sure why, but numbers started falling and referrals were less, so kids were just coming in fewer numbers,” Shelton told Noozhawk.

“The curve was continuing in that direction. It gets to a point where we can’t sustain the deficit anymore.”

The Gutierrez Street location in an industrial building was leased to accommodate 300-400 students, but rent and other fixed costs have remained high as the number of students dropped, Shelton said.

“Finance is at the heart of all of it,” she said.

Shelton said the County Education Office has discussed moving locations and other alternatives, but everything is still very much undecided. The Santa Barbara location has two teachers and two or three aides, for whom the Education Office hopes to find other positions.

For now, everyone is assuming that the students will go back to their district schools.

The news broke last week when parents and students were sent notices that the school would close in June. There were already questions coming in about the closure from local media and Shelton said her office wanted to make sure that families and everyone involved heard it from them first.

The Lompoc and Santa Maria community schools operated by the County Education Office will remain open.

“I had no inclination, no idea,” Santa Barbara schools Superintendent Dave Cash said. “It was a shock.”

Cash said his staff is working to get transcripts and set up one-on-one meetings with each El Puente student — and parents — to find the best place for them to go next year, whether at a traditional or alternative high school. They want to move fast, “so these kids don’t feel alone,” he said.

There has been no conversation — with the Santa Barbara district, anyway — about moving El Puente, so Cash is preparing for his district to take back all its students.

“It wasn’t my decision but I’m working to respond to it,” he said.

However, the students who have been expelled still need somewhere to go — and no one knows yet where that will be.

“I’m certain parents and students are all thinking: ‘Well, what will happen to me?’” Cash said.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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