Teaching assistant Sonia Manzo worked with students this week at El Puente school.

Paul Wellman

Teaching assistant Sonia Manzo worked with students this week at El Puente school.

El Puente Closing

Alternative School a Budget Casualty

Friday, March 15, 2013
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Students and parents learned Friday that El Puente Santa Barbara Community School will be shutting its doors for good at the end of the school year. Run by the County Education Office, the school serves children who have been suspended or expelled from Santa Barbara district high schools. Students can also attend by choice.

Over the years, El Puente has received criticism from activists who see it as a part of the “schools-to-prison pipeline,” but it also provides a highly controlled and regimented alternative setting for kids who struggle in a typical school atmosphere.

Judette Montoya’s son Jacob Escobar began El Puente as a freshman coping with the divorce of his parents, attention deficit disorder, and a learning disability. He was eligible to return to Santa Barbara High School after the year, but he was thriving, so Montoya re-enrolled him. He is now a junior and February’s student of the month. His mother is not sure where he will go next year.

County Superintendent Bill Cirone said that Santa Barbara Unified is making a greater effort to keep its students within the district and that referrals have plummeted since David Cash took over nearly two years ago. In the 2010-2011 school year, 328 students attended the school. So far this year 133 students have been served by El Puente. The current enrollment is 66. There are two teachers and three aides on staff.

With such a small enrollment, the county found it harder to justify the cost of running the school, located in an unmarked building on East Gutierrez Street. Trustee Ed Heron said he heard yesterday that the county wanted to charge the district more money for the kids they sent there. Neither he nor Board President Monique Limón knew that the county had officially decided to close the school when contacted for comment.

Cirone said that he believes the demise of El Puente will be “a good thing” in the long run and that the decision to close it ties in with Governor Jerry Brown’s desire for individual districts to exercise more control over their schools. “I’ve always been a strong believer in local control. I’m a strong believer in the district taking care of all its kids,” he told The Santa Barbara Independent. The precipitous closing of the school puts the district in a short-term bind, however, as it will have to figure out where its expelled students will attend school next year.

As for students like Escobar, “It’s very hard for them to go back to an environment of 2,000 kids,” said Heron. Montoya agreed. “I don’t think [Escobar] is mature enough to handle that situation; I think he needs a way more structured situation.” She noted that through El Puente, he has been provided opportunities such as the chance to attend surf camp and to secure his current job at a law firm. “Some of those kids in there have gone through some really bad stuff … but they’re graduating,” said Montoya.

Santa Barbara district officials could not be reached for comment Friday evening. Superintendent David Cash did not return phone calls. Meanwhile, said Montoya, “I’m hearing a lot of the kids are devastated.”


Independent Discussion Guidelines

@Independent: Can you obtain and publish the salaries the administrators are making?

It seems that while teachers dig into their pockets to supply basics for the kids the Fat Cats on the top of the educational food chain are crying their way to the bank while telling us to fork over more $$$ for "the children".

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 15, 2013 at 6:14 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sounds like part of the problem is too big of classrooms in the regular schools. The less contact with an instructor the less a person will learn.
And I do think Bill Clausen is right. It's always the people who do the real work who get the least money.

Ken_Volok (anonymous profile)
March 15, 2013 at 6:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Where will the troubled kids go?

RememberMe (anonymous profile)
March 16, 2013 at 8:55 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@RememberMe- Jail, of course, and then their education can really start.

AZ2SB (anonymous profile)
March 16, 2013 at 12:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

I went to La Cuesta High School, and although I didn’t graduate, the school helped to keep me out of trouble. God always has the last laugh, as for the last 23 years I have been teaching at a continuation school.

Schools like this save the community money in the long run and are essential in saving kids from jail. Sad to see this one go.

edukder (anonymous profile)
March 16, 2013 at 3:46 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Dear kids at El Puente, Highly compensated adults living large off other people's taxes decided to shut your school down because it's your fault for refusing to be docile conformists. They carefully selected your kind be thrown to the curb because you and your parents are least likely to push back. Lastly, they want to thank those among your parents who voted last November for increasing taxes in support of public education. Kids, let this be a lesson that if you don't have a team of lobbyist in Sacramento or cancelled contribution checks your not at the table, your on the menu.

SBLifer (anonymous profile)
March 16, 2013 at 6:43 p.m. (Suggest removal)

There is a great George Carlin routine--which I could not post here because of the repeated use of four-letter words--but it is available on You Tube and I think it was from about 10-15 years ago and it deals with the matter of how the people that run the country/the corporation don't want educated, critical-thinkers. He explains how the power structure wants people who are just smart enough to take orders, but not smart of enough to realize how they're getting ripped off. (I'm using euphemisms because the way he described it was very graphic)

While I don't agree with Carlin's atheism, he sure had the economic political scene nailed and articulated it well.

As the saying goes: "question authority". Funny, I used to see those bumper stickers quite a bit, but haven't seen one in a long time. What does THAT tell you?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 17, 2013 at 4:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Closing El Puente is tragic!
KV, you are onto something since the classes in most public schools -- unless they're lavishly funded very special public schools in tony neighborhoods like Montecito [read Cold Spring and MUS] -- are simply too large. Prop 30 does not cover the shortfall, and we need more taxes to improve public education and to keep places like La Puente open.
Yes, Bill, Question Authority has gone down the tubes, though the slogan lives on.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 17, 2013 at 4:57 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Cirone "believes" the demise of El Puente will be “a good thing” in the long run, “I’ve always been a strong believer in local control. He pontificates: " I'm a strong believer in the district taking care of all its kids".

Believes? Of what relevance are the "beliefs" of this big mouthed, big egoed bureaucrat - whose bailiwick encompasses a bunch of ancillary services but not a single school? That he gets perpetually reelected to his well-compensated sinecure is in no small measure due to the fact, I can only surmise, that nobody knows what the hell he is supposed to be doing.

joer43 (anonymous profile)
March 17, 2013 at 3:19 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Question: Are public schools funded by local taxes? If so, that would put schools in poor neighborhoods at a disadvantage. And if that's the case, aren't they then de facto private schools?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 17, 2013 at 7 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Sorry "joer43" you need to do your homework. What ever gave you the idea that:

"...- [Cirone and the Santa Barbara County Education office] encompasses a bunch of ancillary services but not a single school?"

: :"Community Schools and Community Day Schools
– El Puente Lompoc, El Puente Santa Barbara, Peter B. FitzGerald in Santa Maria, two Summit High Schools in Santa Barbara, and two Phoenix High Schools in Lompoc and Santa Maria – serve three types of students: those who may be transitioning back to district schools from court schools, having violated criminal law; offenders referred by Probation; and
those students who have been expelled from school.

: :"Residential Court Schools.
-- Los Robles High at Los Prietos Boys Camp and Dos Puertas School at Santa Maria Juvenile Hall — serve students who have violated the law and been removed from home by the court. Students live at the schools, within Probation facilities."

Even more surprising because the second line of the article reads:

-- "Run by the county education office, the school serves children who have been suspended or expelled from Santa Barbara district high schools."

binky (anonymous profile)
March 17, 2013 at 9:39 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Something isn't right with your post didn't criticize me. Don't you have anything bad to say about me? I'm feeling you're ignoring me.

Can someone come up with how much the administrators are paid?

billclausen (anonymous profile)
March 18, 2013 at 3:29 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Another school closing... Ah more children for the WAR machine called the Meat Grinder...

dou4now (anonymous profile)
March 18, 2013 at 5:31 a.m. (Suggest removal)

@Bill, yes, you FOUND IT: "that [....] would put schools in poor neighborhoods at a disadvantage".
All you have to do is carefully read the API public school ratings and almost ALL the lowest scoring elementary schools are in fact in poorer neighborhoods, really, go read these scores in recent ed. of SB News-Suppress or online. Very low are Harding, McKinley, Franklin and so on; very high scoring public schools are led by MUS, Cold Spring, Mountain View...and Roosevelt kids also perform well.
Yes indeed: MUS and Cold Spring are very much like private schools, smaller class sizes, wonderful facilities, excellent teachers (who wouldn't want to work in those conditions??). Their test scores reveal that more money can lead to more excellence. I think highly of both these schools located in very wealthy areas -- what we need to do is fund the Hardings and McKinleys and Franklins at the level of MUS/Cold Spring. THEN you will see improved learning and higher API scores.

DrDan (anonymous profile)
March 18, 2013 at 6:26 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Its sad that El Puente can't go on but the Multimedia Acadamy of Art and Design at SBHS has no problems. The difference is the Academy is essentially a private school at SBHS using -SOME TAX DOLLARS- but where the families are expected to pony up the additional money which may explain why there are almost no Latinos in it, in what is a majority Latino school. I guess if their parents can't pony up their share of the 300k fundraising drive then there is no place for lower income students. The Indy needs to take a look at how this program operates and who gets into it.

Its a great idea and good program, but its a misuse of tax dollars and a failure of the board they way it excludes students of lesser means.

pointssouth (anonymous profile)
March 18, 2013 at 4:06 p.m. (Suggest removal)

The school district is mandated to meet the needs of each child. By choice they choose the one size fits none of the factory model of education designed in the 1920s. Widgets go in with all the same status, they are processed by the machine and come out advanced BY the same amount ( i+1). Children are not suitable for that model, but it is the simplest and most cost-effective. Then, there is the pesky unfunded special education mandate. Very expensive per unit. Then, there are the kids that don't fit and used to find a home at La Puente. Then, there are the kids who get in trouble all the time, but aren't special ed, aren't expelled, but who daily disrupt the learning of others and would benefit from a small group. Again too expensive per unit. Sadly, jail is way more expensive per unit. The "free marketplace" is not allocating resources very wisely.

Unsub55 (anonymous profile)
March 18, 2013 at 4:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Agree with Unsub55...the allocation model is broken. We don't need to throw more money at the issue, but instead re-direct funding to affect the overall model. Using the more affluent districts argument when explaining the performance of schools always reverts back to the socioeconomic make-up of those schools. It doesn't substantiate the claim that more money equals greater test scores, it just underscores the differences in the minority demographic.

brimo7272 (anonymous profile)
March 21, 2013 at 9:32 a.m. (Suggest removal)

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