Education Research Committee report urges SPESD, SPUHS district unification

September 02, 2009
Santa Paula News

An 18-member Chamber of Commerce Education Research Committee has released a report urging that the Santa Paula High and Santa Paula Elementary school districts unify to better serve students, while also saving an estimated $1 million that would benefit education.

By Peggy KellySanta Paula TimesAn 18-member Chamber of Commerce Education Research Committee has released a report urging that the Santa Paula High and Santa Paula Elementary school districts unify to better serve students, while also saving an estimated $1 million that would benefit education.The release of the report followed formal action by the SPESD Board of Trustees last month not to take any role to initiate unification of the district with another school district. The district stated they would “defer on any initiation of unification efforts to the judgment of parents and the community.”Kids First! Unification of Santa Paula’s elementary and high school districts report was started before the Ventura County Grant Jury issued their own report urging that several districts - including Santa Paula and Fillmore - unify. Connie Tushla, chair of the Education Research Committee (ERC), said any unification efforts would “have to be a grass roots, entire community effort... its own entity” to take control of the issue.Although the study was done under the auspices of the Chamber, a majority of the ERC are not Chamber members.According to the report, with unification students can progress “steadily upward in the system from preschool to 12th grade without a major shift at the end of eighth grade” when they enter high school and its district. Programs, textbooks and classes would be “aligned” with coordinated curriculum that would improve communication within the system and with parents as the student moved from one grade to the next, including the jump to high school.Dollars would be conserved by reducing administrative expenses and duplicate expenditures, offering optimal efficiencies, sharing resources, and to “improve long-range planning for the system as a whole.” Schedules, long a sore point for parents who have to deal with different school district closure and opening dates, among others, would be coordinated, benefiting the family as a whole.The ERC sent a letter to the Grand Jury explaining what they were studying. All the school districts in the area also replied, including SPESD, which offered a one-page response.The district also declined to take part in a countywide newspaper’s survey published Sunday about school cuts. Santa Paula Elementary School was the only district to decline survey participation.Ginger Gherardi of the ERC said, “When the Grand Jury report came out we said ‘Wow, we’re looking at the same issue,’ and that’s why we sent a letter” explaining the focus of the committee. The Grand Jury report also provided the committee with some much-needed statistical and cost information, although the “financial impact is not necessarily what motivated us... we were looking at the educational issues.”And unlike the Grand Jury’s stance on massive unification, “There is a major difference - they divided political jurisdictions, but here the issue is very different. This,” noted Gherardi, “is one community.” The ERC report does not call for unification to include the area’s smaller districts, “unless they would want to.”
When asked if Gherardi had any surprises, she said a major one was “I didn’t realize how much lack of coordination there is between the schools.”The committee found the best school in SPESD is McKevett, which ranks at the 49th percentile in Ventura County. “The high school is on the 25th percentile, which means the average SAT score is a 300 point difference, and the kids coming out not prepared to be competitive with other kids in the county.”With unification there would be more academic coordination and the opportunity to do better, although “That’s not to say the schools are not making improvements; they are,” but the results are uneven. Financially, unification would represent “probably over $1 million that can go back into the classroom,” a figure Gherardi said is “very conservative” and still needs further study. At this point, with drastic school cuts by the cash-strangled state, such a savings could and probably would be applied to offset same.“The real question I asked myself is what is the benefit of having two separate districts to the kids and the community... my answer was none; it didn’t make sense. And kids are more important that turf.”Gherardi said the schools and the controversial image of Santa Paula schools must be improved.And unification would eliminate the “two completely different schedules... the two districts do no cooperate with each other; there’s no coordination academically so the high school winds up with a lot of remedial work” for entering freshmen. “The schools need one calendar, one consistent vision on completing education” and moving on to college or a career, the latter also needing improvement for students who - as an example - wish to become automotive mechanics.Shared use of facilities, including those owned by the city, would also be assisted by unification.One thing that would not be lost is the number of teaching positions: “No teacher would be fired because of unification; every classroom would still need a teacher and every school a principal.” What would be experienced would be a reduction in administration: “That’s where all the duplication is at the district level,” more so at the elementary district level.There are three options for unification and Gherardi said the first, the districts agreeing to merge, is “off the table” with the SPESD already stating they would not endorse such an effort. Any public agency - such as the City Council - could ask the county Superintendent of Schools to launch hearings that would reach the state level, an effort “if everything went well” that Gherardi said could be completed by November 2010.The third option, an election to let registered voters of Santa Paula - all who live within the high school district - could start with a petition of 10 percent signature gathering. Such a grass roots effort, said Gherardi, could result in an election in 2011, as the process is slower.

Site Search



Call 805 525 1890 to receive the entire paper early. $50.00 for one year.