Russian River Valley News
Schools on Our Minds
By Vesta Copestakes
This column has been reprinted with the permission of Neighbors of the Russian River Valley.*
It’s time for our children and grandchildren to go back to school.
For my granddaughter, she will finish her not-what-she-hoped-her-high-school-years-would-be as a senior at Analy High. Her freshman and sophomore years were dominated by covid. For part of one year she went to Santa Rosa High, then to Analy, then to less anxiety-producing independent study. Covid gave us Zoom education and meetings, and a strong independent study program. But for her senior year, she wants the campus experience. I’m encouraged.
Within our community, hope lingers that what we are now calling “Far West County” will someday get El Molino High School back. We get excited about an action item on the high school district agenda that might resolve the conflict in our hearts, then sigh with resignation once again. We now know that the consolidated high school district lost 220+ students to other schools. There are MANY reasons, not just the consolidation.
Many of us in Far West County (FWC) are hoping an Office of Education Unification Study (scoe.org) will result in bringing all FWC school campuses into one administrative district. (EXAMPLE: Sonoma County Fire District consolidation). How would this district be funded? A “basic aid” district 100% property-tax-funded – OR – funded per-student? “Since 1978, California schools have relied on the state budget for the majority of their support, a significant change from prior years when most school funding came from local property tax revenues.” – Public Policy Institute of California, ppic.org
Historically, we know this change occurred to make education in poor districts the same as in rich districts. Per-student funding means each child is worth $15,000 per year in CA to the school district regardless of property values and incomes. With declining enrollment, that means less money for schools. In FWC, our property taxes fund around 60% of the West County Union High School District, so parents get excited about the possibility of going back to “basic aid” funding. Can we fund both the elementary schools and El Molino High School with this system? Is this right and fair considering the reasons WHY we changed the way schools are funded?
Enrollment is drastically reduced in all of our schools so the money coming in is reduced right along with the students. BUT we have young families moving into our more affordable homes along the river and many want to raise their children in small towns. IF the Unification Study recommends that FWC elementary schools unify with El Molino High School into one district, would this solve our school dilemma? Community members talk among ourselves and share ideas, potential solutions, and local-ferver passion, but so far we are stuck.
If there’s anything I have learned from serving on the Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council (LRRMAC) for 5 years, it’s that government is a slow process and one of the main reasons it is slow is because it requires community involvement in the decision-making process. That can go for school districts as well, but they don’t have as many legal requirements for public engagement. It’s up to the community if they want to pay attention to school issues, or not. Parents are busy people. Older adults attend more public meetings than parents who often skip school board meetings unless some hot topic rears its head.
So what do the families and locals want for our children? How involved in the workings of a school district do they want to be? Those of us looking for a solution to what we identify as a problem are asking. We’re not organized into a group we could name. We have no social media page. So let’s start by finding answers to our questions. Would you take a survey on this topic to feel the pulse of the community? If so, what questions would YOU ask. Send me an email at email@example.com. FWC school SURVEY.
Speaking of Community Input…
5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins fought hard at the annual budget hearings for more money to funnel into our district. We still have $1 million from the 2022-23 budget and she just added $4 million to the 2023-24 budget for infrastructure improvements. She’s asking – what’s important to YOU! What projects do you want? Dog park? Skatepark? Downtown improvements? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. And sign up for District 5 News so you can stay informed. And please, attend our LRRMAC meetings. Sign up for updates at sonomacounty.ca.gov – or go to Lower Russian River Municipal Advisory Council (LRRMAC).
* River Valley News column will be published in the September, 2023 Neighbors of the Russian River Valley (Best Version Media), a monthly magazine distributed to neighbors in the Russian River Valley. Reprinted with permission. For more info, go to their Facebook page, here.