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West County high school closure from an equity perspective: Why rush?

We often hear that combining our two West County high schools is inevitable because of declining enrollment. The West Sonoma County High School District can afford to delay consolidation of our high schools by a year in order to make sure something this complicated and important is done well. As it turns out, the slashed budgets that California schools were anticipating due to the pandemic did not materialize as expected. In fact, schools are being funded higher than they have been for many years.

While the current WSCUHSD funding model provides revenue to schools based on average daily attendance, Basic Aid schools are funded based on property taxes. This allows schools in rural areas with a large tax base, such as the El Molino attendance area (green in map below), to support relatively fewer students with a higher level of per-student funding. The El Molino attendance area tax base brings in the lion’s share - more than double, $1.2M per year - of the revenue raised through the Measure B parcel tax passed last year.

The Measure B parcel taxes passed in 2020 raise significantly more revenue from the El Molino attendance area  than from the Analy attendance area.
The Measure B parcel taxes passed in 2020 raise significantly more revenue from the El Molino attendance area than from the Analy attendance area.

The Measure B parcel taxes passed in 2020 raise significantly more revenue from the El Molino attendance area than from the Analy attendance area.

BOUNDARY PARCEL COUNT TOTAL PARCEL TAX PERCENT SHARE
Analy 7,438 $587,602.00 31.07%
El Molino 15,488 $1,223,552.00 64.69%
2020 Measure B Parcel Tax

This table provided by the Sonoma County Auditor‐Controller‐Treasurer‐Tax Collector represents the 2020‐21 actual levy at $79 per qualified parcel.

Six budget options were presented to the school board at their March 10th meeting. Only one of the options called for immediate closure of El Molino High School; the other five options included some form of reduction to the 7 period day class schedule. It is worth taking the time to examine whether this is the best and most equitable use of district funds in the long run. According to district reporting, only 48% of Analy students take 7 periods and 20% of Analy students take Office Aid or TA ‘classes’ without instructional content to fill their schedules.

The timeline to consolidate in August 2021 is clearly rushed and there is little time to engage those most affected by a merger. El Molino provides a high quality education for some of the most underserved residents in Sonoma County, and many families hardest hit by the pandemic. Speeding through the steps to create an inclusive and functional consolidated school cannot provide a high quality end-result.

Without bankruptcy looming in June 2022 any longer, the district ought to take the time to follow California’s Closing a School Best Practices Guide. This calls for deep involvement of stakeholders in a decision that will impact students, families, and residents for generations to come.

The community has been in uproar since the vote to close El Molino. Another meeting was quickly planned for March 16 to discuss ‘rebranding’ the remaining district schools. In response to the district’s commitment to new colors, mascot and school name for the unified high school, a protest petition against these changes has begun circulating. Meanwhile, the Lions are organizing. More than $40,000 has been raised to fund their efforts. A drive-through BBQ fundraiser is planned for April 10. More information can be found at SaveElmo.com.

Immediate closure of El Molino will add burdens to already impacted students and families. Longer commute times, fewer sports participation opportunities, and especially the loss of their small and caring school community is a lot to ask of these adolescents in the midst of hardships from the pandemic, the recent fires, and flooding. The funding is there to take the time to do this right for our current and future West County students.

How to Engage

Write to the school board to express your own personal perspective

Review agendas (posted 72 hours prior) and attend the following meetings:

West Sonoma County Union High School District - April 14 wscuhsd.org

Sonoma County Office of Education - April 1 scoe.org

Sebastopol City Council - April 6 & 20 ci.sebastopol.ca.us

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