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What not to do about Castaic's high school

Posted: November 14, 2009 1:30 p.m.
Updated: November 15, 2009 4:55 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Hart district board is scheduled to officially pick one, two or maybe three pieces of property as potential sites for a high school in Castaic.

Each site will have a 15-minute review period, during which consultants are scheduled to discuss environmental studies and engineering reports done for the property.

And then, the William S. Hart Union High School District board is poised to make its decision.

Castaic needs its own high school, and as soon as possible.

The district is likely leaning toward the contested Hasley/Sloan property, which is already owned by the Santa Clarita Valley Facilities Foundation, which buys property for school sites.

That property, located off Hasley Canyon Road, has met with a less-than-favorable review by the Castaic community.

Similarly, the Green Valley site owned by Hunt Williams off San Martinez Canyon Road has been staunchly opposed by the residents of Val Verde.

That leaves the 114-acre Romero Canyon property owned by local construction magnate Larry Rasmussen.

Chief among the strengths of that site are: With entitlements and permits already in place, it's about two to three years further along in the development process than the other sites; it's unlikely to meet with resistance from the few residents who live in that still relatively undeveloped corner of Castaic; and should the district go with that site, Rasmussen promises to stay involved until a graded and prepared pad is ready for construction.

Of course, it would mean the district buying another piece of property when it already has Hasley-Sloan more or less in its pocket.

Development of that site would require sufficient grading, the paving of Mandolin Canyon Road - currently a dirt road - and maintenance of Romero Canyon Road as an emergency route.

Those are the facts. Our purpose here is not to offer an endorsement on any one site.

But after so much haranguing over the better part of a decade, we question why it is imperative this decision be made right away, and in this fashion.

For starters, why is the district refusing to hold off on a decision until newly elected board members Bob Jensen and Joe Messina are sworn in Dec. 9? The two can ask questions on Wednesday night, but that's it.

The existing board had its chance to lock in a high school site.

It failed.

If a decision is being pushed through while the two outgoing members are still on the board so they can say they got the job done ... sorry, they don't deserve a reward for simply looking for a school site.

After a decade of dallying, the board could wait another three weeks. It's a matter of fairness to Jensen and Messina.

Deciding on it now robs the voters of having their wishes fulfilled by the candidates they elected Nov. 3.

Jensen and Messina deserve more than the courtesy of being allowed to sit in on this meeting - they should have a voice in the board's decision.

The district would do well to hold off.

We are not alone in that belief. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich sent a letter on Nov. 9 to district President Steve Sturgeon urging the district to wait.

Antonovich wrote: "It is vital that this decision be considered by the incoming board," followed by a promise to expedite the necessary permits once property is selected.

And what about the tax-paying public, whose children will attend the high school once it is built?

By rushing to a decision days after site information has been released, it's as if the district is almost discouraging public input in the development of a public high school.

As of Friday afternoon, the Hart district Web site yielded no more information than the fact there is a meeting about the Castaic high school site at 5 p.m. Wednesday. That's it.

The PowerPoint presentation for Wednesday night was made available at the dirtict Web site for public review early Friday evening.

How is the public interest served by releasing at the last minute information that no one will realistically have time to review in several days, and then giving each piece of property a 15-minute review at Wednesday's meeting?

Not very well.

How convenient is it to host this important meeting at 5 p.m. on a weekday, when many people who would likely attend the meeting at a later hour will be at work?

Not very convenient.

Why is this meeting being held in a 90-person capacity board room, when a well-publicized meeting could easily draw a crowd to fill the auditorium at one of the local high schools?

Hart district spokeswoman Pat Willett said Friday the district only expects about 50 people to show up for Wednesday's meeting.

The decision of where to erect a high school in Castaic rests squarely on the shoulders of the Hart district board.

That being said, the board would do well to go out of its way in assuring the public its best interests are front and center, rather than conducting business with an attitude that says: "We'll let you know when we've made a decision, and then you can live with it."

Castaic needs a high school.

The community needs the Hart district board to do this the right way, and to be transparent in how it does it.

Otherwise, we all lose.


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