Jim Steinberg – Staff Writer, The Sun
BARSTOW — Misty and Carol Burns moved from Colorado to the High Desert town of Hinkley so that their children could benefit from the special education their four children could receive at the award-winning school.
They and the more than 60 parents or graduates of the Hinkley community’s only school – Hinkley Elementary/Middle School – were both disappointed and angered at the Barstow Unified School District board of education’s 4-to-1 decision Tuesday night to close the campus during.
Separately the board voted to close Thompson Elementary School in Barstow as the district of about 9,000 students wrestles with declining enrollment.
“We come to this meeting with heavy hearts,” said Barbara Rose, the only board member to vote against the Hinkley school’s closure.
Daniel Burns, said that he and his wife plan to “explore every option available” to send their four children to schools outside the Barstow school district.”
Lorna Roberts was among several parents who said thy would homeschool their children rather than have them make a long bus ride to another school.
School officials said that the closing of the two elementary schools would save the district between $300,000 to $600,000 per school.
But several people attending the meeting questioned the anticipated savings.
“I can’t imagine someone accepting a job if they were told their salary were somewhere between $50,000 and $150,000,” one man blurted out.
Roberts noted that the ultimate school savings would be far less than anticipated because so many of the school’s 263 students would be pulled out of the district.
“I’m in shock,” said Amy Otero, a single mother who lives in Barstow and has been driving her sixth-grade son to the Hinkley school since he was in kindergarten.
For the last two years he’s won science fair honors.
Otero’s relatives for several generations have been attending the Hinkley school, which opened in 1902, for several generations.
“This is like having a piece of my family history die,” she said.
Otero said she and her ex-husband have decided to send their son Tristian to a charter school in a nearby school district next year.
“He is not going to a school in Barstow,” she said.
During the school board meeting, Superintendent Jeff Malan revealed that starting in December he started having discussions with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. about having the company subsidize the operations of the Hinkley school.
They refused, he said.
Hinkley’s internationally known plume of chromium 6 contaminated groundwater was depicted in the year 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich.”
PG&E used chromium 6 to control rust and algae in cooling towers for its Hinkley natural gas compressing station during an era when the cancer-causing characteristics of this chemical wasn’t known.
Hinkley resident Richard Johnson criticized Malan for keeping these discussions a secret to the Hinkley community.
“We could have put pressure on them,” said Johnson, who is a member of Hinkley’s Citizen Advisory Committee, which represents the community in meetings with PG&E and water regulatory agencies.
“PG&E has an obligation and a responsibility to help the community keep its school,” said Billy Hernandez, a Hinkley resident.
Contacted several hours before the start of the school board meeting, PG&E spokesman Jeff Smith said that the company considered the decision on closing or not closing the school a decision of a school district, which has been losing students at all its schools for years.
Not much of the Hinkley school’s student decline is related to PG&E’s plume or its buyout of families in Hinkley, he said.
Since 2010, PG&E has extended buyout offers to 366 homeowners in Hinkley.
Of those, 150 have been accepted. One hundred homes were purchased and 50 are in the process of closing.
Out of the 150 homes PG&E has purchased or is in the process of buying there are about 25 children in the age group in those households who would go to the Hinkley school, Smith said.
“This isn’t over,” Johnson said.
Various Hinkley community members are going to be looking at converting the Hinkley school to a charter school, suing the school district, or delaying the closure by another means.
Lester White, who is co-chairman of the town’s community advisory group, said he believes the Barstow district’s purchase of the formerly independent school district was never legally completed.
“Nobody at the district could produce the document saying that Barstow (Unified School District) had bought the Hinkley school district,” he said.
Dora Millet leads seventh graders in history class at Hinkley Elementary in this file photo from August 29. (File Photo)