The West Sonoma County UHSD board held a special meeting on October 7. The meeting was a presentation of the District’s Facility and Operations Feasibility Study. This starts a process to consider options to address budget concerns and declining enrollment. The agenda and zoom link to participate in the board meeting was posted at: https://www.wscuhsd.org under the Board of Trustee tab. A link to the power point presentation is also available under Item II of the agenda.
It’s important to know that this meeting was the start of a conversation. The board is months away from any decisions. They want and need community inputs. To facilitate that, four additional meetings are scheduled. Two are regular school board meetings to be held on October 14 and November 18, 2020. The other two are Town Hall Meetings scheduled for October 21 and November 4, 2020. The town hall meetings are specifically to hear your concerns and answer your questions about the decisions they’ll have to make as a board.
What are they deciding? As presented, the current considerations being discussed are threefold. First and foremost, this study was commissioned to look at the feasibility of consolidating the student populations at Analy and El Molino High Schools into a single campus. If that decision is made, then the second part is on using the vacated campus for development of workforce housing. The third part was a high-level overview of the legal guidelines required for making these decisions. The three plus hour meeting contained too much to cover in one article; therefore, if interested, I encourage you to view the power point and consider attending future meetings.
However, here is the background leading to this study and conversation. Since 2013 they’ve lost 270 students from their schools. An additional 36 students from intradistrict transfers were also lost. By 2022 they project a decrease of an additional 74 students. Students equal money and all school districts get the largest portion of their state funding from Average Daily Attendance (ADA) formulas. Less funding lead to continuing budget challenges. Whether from the fires, COVID19 shifts to online learning or other factors the overall trend is clear county wide; many families are leaving the area over the last 10 years. This problem isn’t unique to this district.
During this 10-year period, West Sonoma County’s budgets have been classified as Qualified during seven of those years. A qualified budget means a district can meet its financial obligations in the current year, but not in the following two years. In the three years when the budget wasn’t in this status, it was because of one-time money used to cover ongoing costs. When a district’s budget is qualified, they are required to develop a Fiscal Recovery Plan to address potential shortfalls.
The district did so and made significant budget reductions impacting programs, services and staffing. For example, they cut 1.2 million in 2018-19 and 1 million in 20-21 school budgets. In the 2022-23 school year, the projected shortfall is 2 million dollars. In 2017-18, they formed a Budget Advisory Committee to identify possible options to address structural deficits. One option presented was consolidation of two high schools into a single campus. That in turn led to the feasibility study presented at this meeting.
The meeting was divided into three parts. Each followed by a public Q&A session. Board members also asked questions. Part one looked at various options, with levels of consolidation and upgrades. These included the options of consolidation at Analy or consolidation at El Molino at a minimum need, a California Department of Education recommended upgrade and unique District Criteria for programs such as art, band, or similar non-core curriculum. Rough cost estimates based on square footage were also presented. Finally, they looked at a possible option of an entirely new high school site. Consolidation is projected to save the district an annual 1.2 million dollars in the general budget.
The next two sessions of the presentation covered use of vacated campus for work force housing and a discussion of legal requirements to be considered. However, those decisions really depend on the two decisions the board must make first. Those are: will they combined the two high schools at a single campus, and if so, which one? They’ll deal with workforce housing and legal processes after those decisions are made. If you want your voice heard as a parent, employee, businessperson, or community neighbor now’s the time to participate and make your views known. It’s much harder to change a decision once it’s made.