October 16, 2021
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Three high school consolidation in West County

By: Brandon McCapes and Cassandra May Albaugh
March 19, 2021

The West Sonoma County High School District met for a special meeting March 16 where they discussed the upcoming consolidation of El Molino, Analy and Laguna High Schools following the failure of a Measure A in a special election earlier this month.

The board met to discuss rebranding the schools following consolidation, which will go into effect this fall. Students and staff from El Molino High School in Forestville will be moved to Analy and Laguna High Schools, while the district offices move from the Laguna campus to the El Molino campus. The consolidation is expected to save about $1.2 million annually and has been necessitated by declining enrollment in West County.

The board authorized a planning committee which would work with students to select a new mascot and colors for the new Analy/El Molino high school, which will require new signs and uniforms. The uniforms alone will cost $175,000 for all levels, genders and programs, but Board Member Jeff Ogston said that cost will not come out of the estimated savings, as it had already been factored in.

The planning committee will also work with staff to develop curriculum and the broader community.

“We’ve had many conversations about the impact of that move and how we will integrate the two communities together,” Board member Toni Beal said about a unity committee formed following the March 10 vote to consolidate.

Board member Julie Aiello repeatedly raised concerns over the fact that the cost had not yet been determined. Anything affecting the physical structures, including signage, the field and scoreboards, can be paid for by bond money allocated towards facilities.

The board also discussed selecting a principal for the consolidated high school.

For more information about the consolidation, see the following written by Cassandra May Albaugh of The Community Voice:

West Sonoma County Union High School District held their regular board meeting on March 10. It was a five and one-half hour marathon with over 250 participants in attendance online. The meeting was dominated by the discussion and decision of whether to consolidate Analy and El Molino High Schools into a single campus. Driven by on-going structural budget deficits and declining enrollment, the question of consolidation has been front and center since October of last year. The Community Voice has been covering the discussion continuously since then. The initial report on their Special Meeting of October 7 can be found here: The Community Voice.

Since then, they’ve held a series of town halls to allow community input. The Russian River community was shocked to learn that their local campus, El Molino in Forestville, the smallest of the two regular high schools, was in danger of being moved to Analy or Laguna’s campus in Sebastopol because of a potential consolidation to address the budget deficit. Laguna is the continuation high school co-located with the district office. They organized and protested. With a December 2020 decision looming by the board, they pleaded for more time to look for alternatives to consolidation. 

They got their wish. Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins spearheaded getting a transient occupancy tax on a special ballot for March 2021. If passed, portions of the tax could be used to assist schools in the West County, including the high school district. They also convinced the school district to spend time and money to place a parcel tax measure on that March 2021 ballot. The hope was that if one or both measures passed, the revenue generated would serve as “bridge funding,” buying time for the community to find and develop more permanent solutions to the structural deficit. Neither measure passed.

March was the pivotal month. The district’s submitted budget was “qualified” meaning although they could meet their obligations this school year and next, they would be unable to do so for the 2022-23 school year. Because of that, they were required to develop a Fiscal Recovery Plan to be submitted this month with their second interim budget report. Back in November they passed a resolution, described as a placeholder, to approve moving the Laguna High School and district office to the El Molino campus so that El Molino and Analy could share a single consolidated high school campus. 

The Superintendent, Toni Beal, also reactivated the Superintendent’s Budget Committee to look at all options, not just consolidation, to close the structural deficit required in the Fiscal Recovery Plan. The committee was composed of administrators, teachers, staff and parents from all school sites. They came up with six potential options, however were divided about which option to recommend to the board. Ten members voted for consolidation in 2021-22 while nine members voted for either no consolidation or delay of consolidation until 2022-23 and cutting classes from seven to six periods each day. Reducing class periods would have had the impact of cutting many sports or extracurricular activities and electives such as music, band, or art. 

The committee wasn’t the only divide in the district. It was evident that the community remains divided over the consolidation decision. El Molino supporters showed up in force to argue and plead for their high school campus. Others supported immediate consolidation to save programs, sports and electives. Forty-five speakers spoke for more than 90 minutes pleading for the board to do one of three things. Some wanted to save programs and therefore supported consolidation in 2021. Others pleaded for more time to try to avoid consolidation and said it shouldn’t happen until 2022-23 at the earliest. Some were against consolidation completely. Some even threatened legal action to stop any consolidation decision.

The board too was divided. Trustee Angie Lewis said, “we owe it to our community to take the time to plan it properly.” Not against consolidation, she appeared to support not doing it this year. Former Board President Jeanne Fernandes was a proponent of consolidate now. She provided a history of district attempts going back to 1989 to solve the problem of declining enrollments and structural deficits. She asked her fellow board members to “consider carefully and choose wisely.” New board member Julie Aiello doubted consolidation could be done by next fall, appearing to support Lewis’ view to not consolidate this year. The other new board member Laurie Fadave also appeared to be leaning towards delaying consolidation saying we need to “take the time” to do this right. Current board president Kellie Noe was visibly torn about her decision. The longest serving board member, she talked about dealing with these issues year after year. She said, “Either we are intentional and thoughtful” on how we do this, or it will be done for us. The final vote was 3-2 with Noe, Fernandes and Fadave in the majority.

In other board news, preliminary layoff notices were approved for the 2021-22 school year. Final notices are not due until May and things may change given tonight’s consolidation decision. Beal also presented the district’s plan to shift the instructional model from distance learning to a distance learning/on-campus hybrid model. After presenting background, the board unanimously approved the resolution to allow the hybrid model to commence. The district will begin small cohorts for priority populations (homeless, foster youth, special education, etc.) on March 29. The Hybrid Model of Instruction will commence on April 12 for at least one grade level. Both dates are driven by a desire to qualify for state and grant monies in support of reopening schools. Because of tonight’s decision on consolidation, the Second Interim Budget with required Fiscal Recovery Plan was approved as a “Positive” submission meaning the district can meet its obligations this year and the next two school years. Finally, the District’s Safety Plans and an Emergency Authorization to purchase additional ventilation equipment to prepare for reopening schools were approved.