Low enrollment, budget cuts doom Gold Oak Arts Charter School
Until recently, El Dorado County had 12 charter schools. But on May 31, one of them closed its doors.
A victim of declining enrollment and funding cuts to the district’s budget, the Gold Oak Union School District Board of Trustees voted to close its charter school after eight years of operation.
Wendy LaDue, Superintendent and Principal of the district, explained that 120 students were needed to make the arts-oriented program financially viable but that enrollment had been less than 60 for the last several years.
LaDue said one reason for fewer students signing up for the charter school was a general decline in the number of school age children in the district. Currently it enrolls 486 students.
“People are moving,” LaDue said. “They are leaving rural areas and leaving California as property becomes too expensive and as people seek greater economic opportunities elsewhere.”
In addition the district has experienced more than $2.5 million in budget cuts over the past three years and had been relying on funding from Gold Oak Elementary and Pleasant Valley Middle Schools to partially subsidize the charter school program.
Faced with possible cuts to its library, sports and music programs, the Board of Trustees made the decision to shut down the charter school.
According to LaDue, as with other school districts throughout the state, Gold Oak Union is being asked to keep the same programs going but with less money. “We’ve had no new money in five years, now going into our sixth year. We’re being asked to do more with less money,” she said.
“If the tax measure doesn’t pass in November, it could mean more cuts in the future. Our ultimate goal is to keep providing the best education we can with the resources we have for all our kids and do what’s best for everyone,” said LaDue.
Sylvia Shannon, the principal of both the charter school and the elementary school, said the charter school was using art as a medium to reach students in grades six through eight. “It was set up as an alternative to a traditional school because a lot of students out here are involved in the arts and theater,” she said.
“We used a lot of visiting artists and project-based learning,” she said. “It was a hands on approach with a lot of student projects. But we still met state academic standards. Every year we enrolled over 100 students but in the last several years it’s been down to 50 or 60.”
One of the last projects the students took on was creating gifts for the teachers who worked directly with them. Those gifts consisted of hand-painted benches, stools and a small bridge that everyone had a hand in decorating. Sponsored by the school’s parent-teacher club, the May 30 event was called Dragon Days in honor of the school’s mascot.
Despite the charter school closing, LaDue said the district plans to provide similar opportunities to students in the Gold Oak Elementary and Pleasant Valley Middle School.
“A lot of the best practices in the charter school can be used in the regular program and we will provide those to all our students,” she said.
Dr. Vicki Barber, Superintendent of the El Dorado County Office of Education, said the county has lost about $22 million in school funding over the last three years and if the tax measure doesn’t pass in November, local schools could lose an additional $12 million.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.