As previously reported in this paper and other media outlets, a group of parents from the Forestville area and El Molino High School community have been attempting to stop or slow down the pending consolidation of their high school with that of Analy High School in Sebastopol. Because of declining enrollments and an on-going structural budget deficit, the West Sonoma County Union High School District decided to move El Molino students to the Analy High School location and form a single consolidated comprehensive high school.
This parent’s group, now organized as “The Community Alliance for Responsible Education (CARE),” has been vigorously opposed to, and fighting to save El Molino, from a consolidation. This has been on the school board’s agenda since November of last year. Because of their opposition, the board placed a parcel tax measure on the March 2021 ballot. It was an attempt to buy time and delay the need for consolidation. That measure failed. The attempt cost the school district more money and led to their decision to consolidate in the 2021-2022 school year. Many of these parents in this group were also behind a letter sent to the district raising the issue of changing trustee elections from by-area to by-district elections under the California Voting Rights Act (CRVA). The district has declared their intent to do so in time for the 2022 elections. That too is costing the district more money.
They’ve now filed suit in Sonoma County Superior Court in another attempt to slow down or stop the pending consolidation. They claim discrepancies occurred in the district’s fact-finding process. They also alleged that district officials were in error when they found the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requirements were waivable. This latest legal challenge, again costing the district more money to fight, is aimed at requiring the district to conduct a full environmental review. The effect would be to stop the consolidation effort, causing the board to find other means to address their structural deficit. They have also started recall petitions targeting Board President Kelly Noe and two other board members. If successful, another election costing the district more money would be required to replace any recalled members. It appears the hope is with new board members the 3-2 vote to consolidate could be reversed.
In a press release issued by the district on April 30, the district claimed, “The lawsuit is unfortunate and frivolous.” It states, “The district complied with all CEQA requirements and properly exempted the consolidation from CEQA.” They said the “lawsuit is also untimely,” because the residents “waited five months after the District’s Board approved the consolidation on November 30, 2020.” According to the press release, “The district has made significant progress in its merger process and has taken irreversible steps towards unifying our schools. Thus, it must continue with all of its efforts to ensure the schools are ready for our students for the upcoming school year.”
The district acknowledged that “the consolidation and merger is difficult” but “any attempt to stop it will harm the students and financially devastate the district.” They also said, “The district is confident that it can successfully defend this frivolous and untimely lawsuit.” They further state, “The lawsuit is an attempt by these residents to stop the challenging and heart-wrenching decision the district had to make to consolidate its high schools due to extreme financial deficits.”
The El Molino facility in Forestville is not being closed. The continuation high school, Laguna, currently in Sebastopol, will use that site. The district office is also relocating there. The district intends “to utilize El Molino’s current site for classes for students and transportation options will be available with a shuttle to and from EL Molino’s current site and Analy’s current site.” The newly opened Performing Arts Center and the athletic fields will also remain for use.
Since their last regular meeting on April 14, the district has held three special meetings in closed session, at least two of which were to discuss pending litigation with legal consul. The next regular board meeting is scheduled for May 12. You can find links to You Tube and Zoom for that meeting on the district’s website at: www.wscuhsd.org. The agenda will also be posted there a few days before the meeting as required by law.