On May 12, the West Sonoma County Union High School District held a regular school board meeting. While there were many routine, regular items discussed during this five-hour meeting, the bulk of the meeting again was spent on issues related to the consolidation of Analy and El Molino High Schools into a single comprehensive high school. They had previously held a special meeting on May 5 to consider whether to pause the rebranding process for this consolidation effort.
First, a review of some items not related to consolidation. Typical for a meeting at the end of a school year, the board recognized the services of the student representatives to the board this year. Administrators from each school made the presentations to Satori McCullough from Analy High School, Jeanne Broome from El Molino High School, and Jev Wise from Laguna High School. This was followed by recognition of teachers and staff retirees this year. Then routine reports were given to the board.
Then the discussion of the rebranding timeline took center stage. A bit of background for context. The board previously approved consolidation of Analy and El Molino into a single comprehensive high school. This was part of a Fiscal Recovery Plan required by the Sonoma County Office of Education to address the district’s structural deficit driven by declining resources and enrollment. The consolidation moves El Molino students to the Analy campus this fall. The El Molino campus would house Laguna High School (a continuation school) and the district office. It would also house some advanced specialty classes such as Dance, Culinary, AG Farm to Table, Viticulture, and Woodshop. Athletic fields would continue to be used for sports and the Performance Arts Center for school and community events.
As part of this consolidation effort, the board voted on March 16 to commence a rebranding process. It was comprised of various committees to unify the community and students as part of a new high school. This included a student design committee tasked with recommending options for a new school name, mascot and school colors.
But the community remains divided. El Molino parents have continued to take actions to reverse the consolidation decision or at least delay it until the 2022-23 school year. The Analy community also raised opposition to rebranding, wanting to keep the 113-year name and history of their high school.
This opposition and the actions being taken led to the May 5 special meeting to consider pausing the rebranding effort. At the special board meeting, Trustee Julie Aielo moved to postpone the rebranding process until the district had a better understanding of their financial situation. Her motion passed unanimously. The fiscal concerns are being driven by the actions of the El Molino parents’ effort to reverse or slow down the consolidation decision.
First, they sent a letter raising a concern regarding the California Voting Rights Act. Although they withdrew that letter, it triggered the district to move to a by-trustee district election process for board elections commencing in 2022. That legal process is going to cost the district about $60,000. They also commenced a recall effort against the three board members who voted to consolidate. If it makes the ballot for a special election, it could cost the district $100,000 or more. Finally, on April 21 they filed a “Petition for Writ of Mandate” against the district with the Superior Court of Sonoma County. The district will incur legal costs to defend against that lawsuit and may be subject to a financial judgment down the road.
So just a week later, the board was again discussing rebranding and their decision to pause it. Superintendent Toni Beal raised a concern that pausing the rebranding was a mistake. Folks resigned from the Unity Committee. They and the kids felt they were not supported by the board. That stopping the process midstream was devastating to them and the work they had already put in. The Student Design Team is disbanding for now.
Mike Roan from El Molino and Joe Ellwood from Analy who are slated to share the Athletic Director duties at the new high school said it was important that the students have a shared identity next fall. That the name of the new high school was the most important. Based on the efforts to date, they proposed “West County High School” be that name. Also, they need a decision sooner than later so that uniforms can be ordered for the fall even if it’s a basic black and white bridge uniform with just the new name and without a chosen mascot or school colors yet. Since this was just a discussion item, the board directed Beal to bring a possible action item to the May 26 board meeting. Then the board could continue the rebranding pause or restart it.