Santa Paula Times

Council urges SPUHS & SPESD unification study, but delays proclamation

January 13, 2010
Santa Paula City Council

Some City Councilmen showed impatience on further delaying a proposed study on unification of the two largest school districts, but agreed to wait on kicking off the analysis until February. 

The January 4 discussion led to a 4-1 vote - Councilman Ralph Fernandez opposed the move - to place a resolution on the February 1 agenda asking for the study by the Ventura County Superintendent of Schools office. 

Last year a Chamber of Commerce-initiated Education Committee - mainly composed of non-Chamber members - proposed merging the Santa Paula Elementary and Santa Paula Union High School districts. The study closely mirrored later conclusions by the Grand Jury that unification be considered, although the latter urged that all Santa Clara River Valley schools unify.

The local committee seeks to create one district serving K through 12th grade students, believing it will improve continuity, education levels, and save money better spent in classrooms. Santa Paula High School has taken steps towards such a study, and last year then Elementary District Board President Tony Perez told the council the district believed voters should decide the issue, but did not offer support.

In November the committee asked that the Council start the process for the study, but they said they would wait until a joint meeting they hoped to hold with the school boards. Interim City Manager Cliff Finley told the council at the January 4 meeting the attempt to set up the joint meeting has not been successful. Although the high school district will discuss the issue in February, the elementary district will “probably” not approach it until early March.

Several public speakers urged that the council forego adopting the unification resolution, with elementary district educator Jeri Mead noting, “I hope the city will take the time to form a committee,” hold forums and “hear the pros and cons,” including more detailed information on potential unification cost savings.

Rob Corley told the council that since the unification study began more than a year ago nothing - including the SPESD fiscal crisis - has changed the mind of the committee, and any action by the council would not be support of unification, but rather the formal study.

“You’re not being asked to take a position pro or con,” but rather, said the committee’s Ginger Gherardi, “get the accurate information out to the public.”

Councilman Bob Gonzales noted the “hard work you put in this” and said he supported the resolution, as “it will cause the county to come in and initiate the analysis,” including informational public forums.

“I’m not really comfortable jumping ahead of the school boards,” said Councilman Dr. Gabino Aguirre. 

Fernandez urged that the council “at least give them [school districts] the opportunity” to study the issue, although he noted disappointment that SPESD was not moving forward in a more timely fashion.

Vice Mayor Fred Robinson agreed, but noted that although “I would encourage them to move quickly” and give the issue top priority status, otherwise the council would be forced to take action in the spring.

Waiting much longer, said Mayor Jim Tovias, would not make sense.

Councilman Bob Gonzales said public comment on salaries and benefits is important, “but to me more important is the little munchkins” and their education. “I think it’s our responsibility to move this forward,” he added.