Facts on unification for Santa Paula’s Schools
Published: October 26, 2012
By Rob Corley
Volunteer member of Santa Paula Unification Group
Last Sunday the Star newspaper (and now above in the Santa Paula Times) printed a letter from Michelle Kolbeck opposing unification of the Santa Paula Elementary School District with the Santa Paula High School District. School board member Kolbeck said that many questions about unification have not been answered.
This simply is not true. Every one of these questions, allegations and unfounded claims has been answered, and most have been most answered several times by different experts.
Mrs. Kolbeck just doesn’t like the answer she keeps hearing. Even a special report paid for by the school board from school money didn’t satisfy her personal objections. Lately she has been joined by elementary school board president and retired principal Rick Cadman who has printed his own list of claims which includes many of the same incorrect statements.
Let me respond to these misleading statements with some brief responses. More complete answers and links to source documents are available at the Yes on Measure M web site at http://santapaulaunification.com/.
- COST. Unification in Santa Paula will cost very little because two districts in the same city will merge into one. I personally talked with the most recently unified districts in the state. Both were similar to what is proposed in Santa Paula - two districts merging into one with the rural K-8 districts staying independent. One estimated their total cost of unification to be less than $10,000 and the other said about $20,000. Complex unifications can be costly, simple one are very inexpensive. I’ve calculated the total cost will be less than $10 per student, and much less if one of the two current superintendents serves as the organizing leader for the unified district prior to July 1.
- CLASS SIZE: Mrs. Kolbeck has repeatedly said class size will increase if the districts unify, with up to 40 students in every classroom. Let’s look at the numbers, rounded for easier reading: if the elementary district has 3,000 students and there is one teacher for every 25 students then there are about 120 classroom teachers. If we suddenly change to 40 students per room there is a need for only 75 teachers and 45 teachers must be laid off. If these 45 teachers make $50,000 per year, that means the budget must be cut by $2.25 million dollars, or $750 per student. I have calculated the total cost of unification to be about $10 per student, and probably less. The claim of giant class sizes is nothing more than a desperate scare tactic based on fantasy numbers. Having one Superintendent instead of two means a savings of more than $100,000 per year, every year. There is no plausible reason to lay off even one teacher or one classified employee.
- HIGH SCHOOLS WILL GET ALL THE MONEY: Both Mrs. Kolbeck and Mr. Cadman have stated as a fact that 70% of a unified school district’s budget goes to the high schools. This is completely untrue! It is so wrong that it is nearly mathematically impossible to occur. Right now elementary school (K-8) students are funded at about $6,000 per pupil per year and high school (9-12) students are funded at about $7,000 per pupil per year (again, I’m rounding to make it easier to follow). For the 70% claim to be true - which it is not - these amounts would change to about $3,000 for each elementary pupil and more than $15,000 for each high school pupil per year. That just can’t happen, and doesn’t look like any district in the state. Yes, high school students cost more per pupil because of college and career counselors, athletics, science and other specialized classes, and other programs. But spending 70% of the budget on 30% of the students -- that is nothing but a dishonest, wildly wrong scare tactic from two people opposed to unification. Mrs. Kolbeck and Mr. Cadman say the 70% figure is based on Independent Research. There is no such research and they are not telling the truth.
- SMALL SCHOOLS: Mr. Cadman seems to say unification will cause smaller schools in Santa Paula to close. How, I ask. First, his numbers are completely wrong - there are not four schools with fewer than 350 students. The smallest school has 350 students and most are over 400 students. This unification affects the board and administration, not the schools. The new board may make changes in the future, just as the existing boards may make changes. No schools will close because of unification.
- “RESEARCH”: Both have claimed to use “Education Research” for the claims. This is not true. I personally tracked down the source documents used and they are not anything like “research”. Many of the claims came from a lobbying document from the lawyer for the Arizona School Board Association which was desperately fighting consolidation of districts to cut school administration costs, at the cost of seats for school board members. Another document looked at costs in Iowa for merging all districts in each county into one large district. Neither has anything to do with Santa Paula.
- SCHOOL BOARDS: Mrs. Kolbeck has claimed that two specialized school boards are better than one unified board. In some cases this may be true. Santa Paula is a small city. One board now governs seven schools, the other board governs two schools. After unification one board will govern nine schools. This is not creating a large district. The hard truth is that the two boards have not worked together, have not coordinated school schedules or curriculum, and have not attempted to find efficiencies by sharing.
- LARGE DISTRICTS: Both have claimed that low income students do worse in a larger district. Again, this is not true. The statement appears to come from a 2005 report on consolidation of rural schools into larger regional districts. This has absolutely nothing to do with Santa Paula. The actual statement is “Students from low income areas have better achievement in small schools.” The report is almost exclusively a literature review of Midwest schools from 1960-2004. Comparing small rural schools in other states to very large urban schools is simply irrelevant to Santa Paula’s situation.
When has unification been studied?
-- 2009 Education Committee, Santa Paula Chamber of Commerce.
-- 2010 Kids First! report by the Santa Paula Unification Group.
-- 2011 Ventura County Office of Education (VCOE) feasibility analysis.
-- 2011 County Committee on School District Organization.
-- 2011 Independent analysis by Dr. Michael Winters for VCOE.
-- 2011 VCOE report to state Department of Education.
-- 2011 Letter to elementary school board from Lozano Law Firm ($35,000).
-- 2012 Independent analysis for SPESD by School Services of Calif. ($15,000).
-- 2012 Continuing work by Lozano Law Firm ($25,000).
-- 2012 Calif. Department of Education report to State Board of Education.
-- 2012 Nonpartisan report to County Elections Department from VCOE.
Each of the County and State reports is an independent, objective analysis. The expert report by Dr. Winters was carefully reviewed by the 11 member County Committee, most of whom have decades of experience in school district management.
I ask you to use common sense - how can a streamlined administrative system not be better? Please support Measure M for Unification on November 6. Don’t believe the wild statements and scare tactics used by the few opponents.
I respect the time Mrs. Kolbeck and Mr. Cadman have given to the Santa Paula Elementary School District. But that does not excuse making untrue, unfounded and misleading statements. Using the status of their elected position to spread misinformation is even more unsettling.