Buffeted By State Funding Cuts And Hinkley Water Contamination, BUSD Closes Two Schools

(March 1) BARSTOW—The Barstow Unified School District will shut down Hinkley School and Thomson Elementary at the end of the current school year.
In the face of budget shortfalls and declining enrollment, the district opted to make the closures, which will entail eliminating the principal positions at both schools and the layoffs of 20 teachers and 35 support personnel.
District superintendent Jeff Malan said the austerity moves were an unavoidable element of a district reorganization that is both unfortunate and necessary.
The district, like nearly every other one in California, has seen its funding cut by the state. In Barstow Unified, that circumstance is exacerbated by the departure of large numbers of residents from Hinkley, one of the more remote areas within the district.
The exodus from Hinkley has been brought on by spreading hexavalent chromium contamination in the water table.
Pacific Gas & Electric, which used hexavalent chromium as an anti-corrosive in the cooling towers for its pressurization systems for a natural gas line spanning that area, disposed of the very toxic substance into unlined ponds near Hinkley in the 1950s and 1960s. The advancing state of contamination has resulted in the transformation of Hinkley into what is anticipated to be a ghost town by the end of the current decade. Pacific Gas & Electric, which had earlier sought to use water decontamination strategies in the area, now seems intent on simply purchasing the entire township and encouraging remaining residents to leave. The closure of Hinkley School will quite likely hasten those departures. Students from Hinkley will need to commute to other schools in the district with the onset of the 2013-14 school year.
Tuesday night’s meeting was heavily attended by more than three dozen of the parents of school children yet remaining in Hinkley.  Their entreaties that the school be preserved ultimately proved futile.
Malan told those in attendance at the February 26 school board meeting that he had made repeated requests of Pacific Gas & Electric corporate officers for their assistance in formulating a plan to stem the mass departures of residents or provide direct funding to keep Hinkley School open, but that the company’s officials were unwilling to help.
The vote to close Thomson was unanimous. The vote to close Hinkley School passed 4-1, with board member Barbara Rose dissenting.

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