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Update: No date for Castaic school

• High school won't open until at least 2012, official says

Posted: May 14, 2008 2:12 p.m.
Updated: July 16, 2008 5:03 a.m.

During a special meeting of the Castaic Area Town Council, Hart District Superintendent Jaime Castellanos informed a room full of frustrated Castaic residents that there is no timeline to build a high school in Castaic.

"There is no timeline," Castellanos said when asked by council member Scott Moon if the William S. Hart Union High School District had established a timeline to get the high school built. "We're trying to be as reflective and purposeful in our plans as possible."

Castellanos, Hart district Chief Operations Officer Rob Gapper and district governing board members Gloria Mercado-Fortine and Steve Sturgeon attended the Tuesday evening meeting in order to answer questions from council members and Castaic residents regarding the longtime need for a high school in the unincorporated area northwest of Santa Clarita.

All Castellanos could do was make his best guess as to the date a high school might be completed in Castaic.

"2013, give or take a year or two, is probably more realistic," he said. "We are not sitting on our hands. We are having dialogs with developers and we are looking at properties."

But for most Castaic residents in attendance, that prediction wasn't good enough.

"You are employees of ours - we've elected you to do a job. I would lose my job if I didn't meet my timelines," Castaic resident Gabrielle Volz told Mercado-Fortine and Sturgeon. "To state that you don't have a timeline, I think is a failure as an employee of ours."

Mercado-Fortine admitted that plans for a high school in Castaic have fallen through in the past due to financial and other challenges.

"We often said we were going to build a school by 2007, but it's not there," she said. "We're looking at putting a bond
measure on the November ballot."

Potential bond measure
The Hart district hired a company to survey residents about a potential bond measure this spring, and the results of that survey should be completed this month.

"The next bond measure that we put before the voters will have a high school in Castaic as a major component," Gapper said.

But Castaic residents were concerned that Santa Clarita Valley residents would not support a bond measure that mainly benefitted Castaic.

"Everybody else already has their high school, so all they have to do is check ‘no,'" said Castaic Area Town Council Member Robert Kelly. "So even if every person in Castaic voted for it, it wouldn't pass."

Castellanos said he has seen some of the results of the bond survey, and that there is support for a high school in Castaic.

"I think you have more support across the valley than you think," Castellanos said.

Select site then input
Castaic resident Flo Lawrence wants the bond measure to be written with a guarantee that a portion of the money go to build a high school in Castaic.

"We voted for Measure V, and saw the money go everywhere but to our community," he said. "I would like the bond written so that a percentage, or a certain amount, would go to a Castaic high school."

Town Council member Jeff Preach informed the Hart district board members and administrators at the meeting that the council had formed its own School Site Selection Committee, and wanted to know if that committee would be allowed to have input as to where the school will be built.

"The task of selecting a site for a Castaic high school will rest in the hands of the governing board," Gapper said. "Once we do select a site and decide to go forward with it, we would certainly welcome a dialog."

Town Council member Phil Hof was annoyed that public input would only be welcomed after a site was selected.

"I would say that's why we do not have a high school now," Hof said.

Castellanos said that the board might seek public input once the sites were narrowed down to two, but the decision would rest with the board. The Hart district is currently looking at four sites for the school, but Castellanos said he could not go into detail about any of them due to requests from developers.

"We know more than what we tell you. It's not that we don't want to share everything with you, it's that we can't," Castellanos said.

Reasons for delay
Castellanos cited budget cuts, changing demographics and issues with developers as some of the reasons why a high school has not yet been built in Castaic.

"In terms of our funding, we just had to cut $10.3 million from our budget, so we have to look at all these factors, and try to get creative with the financing situation," Castellanos said.

It's no secret that developers in the area have shut down most of their projects, Gapper added.

"We can't say they're going to start back up on a certain date," Gapper said.

Volz asked if some of the district's current properties like the Hasley/Sloan property, which was the original site for a high school in Castaic and is owned by the district foundation, could be sold to bring in revenue.

"We hope we can increase the value by selling entitlements on it," Gapper said. "Then, yes, we will rely on the foundation to sell it."

The meeting ended with Town Council Member John Kunak asking the Hart district board members and administrators to make building a high school in Castaic a major priority.

"A lot has happened over the past six or seven years, and I understand your frustration. All we can work with now is the present," Castellanos said, promising to come back to future meetings to keep the council informed of any progress.


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