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Tim Myers: SCV schools outnumber students

Posted: November 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 17, 2012 2:00 a.m.

In 2011, I appreciated it a great deal when Heather Davis, an earnest charter school math teacher from Canyon Country, ran for the William S. Hart Union High School District board against the two incumbents.

Without her, the district would see only the two incumbents running and cancel the election.

But alas, I spoke at some length with Davis after she announced her candidacy to take her measure and she was a poseur. She struggled mightily to name the six existing high schools in the Hart district and thought that a Castaic high school already existed, though she possessed some vague notion of controversy regarding its construction.

I spared her the embarrassment of attempting to name the district’s six junior high schools.

But one cannot hold this lack of knowledge against the candidate, for the patchwork of schools and districts in the Santa Clarita Valley would certainly leave any ordinary soul confused.

First off and most confusing relates to the lack of a unified school district in the SCV. The SCV contains not one, not two, but five separate and distinct districts, including three elementary (K-6) districts, one junior high/high school district (7-12), and, just for good measure, a K-8 district.

When the Myers moved to the SCV in 1996, the word surrounding all the districts? Overcrowding.

Booming tract housing development in the late 1990s and early 2000s left all the school districts with an embarrassment of riches when it came to per capita state funding, but a deficit in school infrastructure.

Helmers Elementary, the Saugus Union School District school the Myers children attended, hosted nearly 1,000 students on a campus designed for 400-600. The Newhall School District went to a multi-track year round schedule for several years to alleviate infrastructure strain, and the Hart district came within a whisker of adopting multi-track year-round for its junior high schools and a split day schedule for the straining high schools.

But two things occurred that resulted in the shocking reversal of this mega-trend from 2007. First, infrastructure suddenly caught up with demand with the 50 percent increase in capacity in school spaces, particularly in the Hart district, that suddenly went from four to six junior highs and high schools.

Second, the tract building boom came to a screeching halt, and then the unthinkable occurred.

Administrators from various schools, particularly the Newhall School District, began using words like “declining enrollment,” which those who merrily kept drawing the growth line out in a linear fashion never expected to hear.

The Hart district opened one high school, Golden Valley, that quickly became a rump with struggling athletic and academic programs due to relatively low enrollment.

Arroyo Seco Junior High School, to which our oldest son actually walked to and from school uphill both ways (check the topography of Decoro Drive in Valencia; it’s really true!), once bursting at the seams, found itself cutting electives with its student body suddenly drained by the opening of the shiny new Rio Norte Junior High School.

And shock of shocks, the Saugus Union School District would full on close a school (Bouquet Canyon Elementary), open a brand new school with district-wide enrollment since its adjacent neighborhood could not generate enough students (West Creek Academy) and de facto close another school due to construction delays (Emblem Elementary).

And in a further shocking development, Helmers Elementary and other schools began accepting out-of-district transfers to keep up numbers. I initially believed this some local urban legend until I attended kindergarten birthday parties for our grandson’s class in Newhall near Dockweiler Drive and in the Rainbow Glen area of Saugus.

And, in perhaps the greatest act of folly, the Hart district continues charging ahead with the construction of the unneeded Castaic high school, which may not enroll more than 900-1,100 for 15 to 20 years, well below the critical mass of 2,500 students needed to compete effectively in athletics and provide appropriate extracurricular activities.

And so, the Myers family, after graduating our youngest child from Valencia High School, leaves Santa Clarita while the valley is in an educational quandary. The fact exists that every district, not unlike the homebuilders and commercial developers in their hurry to reap the benefits of the debt-fueled real estate boom, engaged in their own boom of school construction, again fueled by publicly issued debt, and now find themselves with too much capacity.

But the Myers family will do its part and sell a five bedroom house to a family that could populate it!

Tim Myers is a Valencia resident. “Myers’ Musings” appears Saturdays in The Signal.



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