Schools reach deal on Oak View students
By Bret Bradigan
An uneasy truce in the tug-of-war
for Oak View students was agreed upon Tuesday evening as the
Ojai Unified School District board of trustees called off plans
to designate area schools as charter schools.
In a May 14 letter to OUSD Superintendent Dr. Van Riley, his
counterpart at the Ventura Unified School District, Dr. Trudy
Arriaga, backed off their earlier denial of requests by parents
within the district to transfer their students to Ojai schools,
and agreed to approve all transfers for students, except for
those in grades kindergarten, seventh and ninth, in exchange
for OUSD not recruiting those students, most of whom live in
the Oak View area. Riley said some 280 students from Oak View
attended Ojai schools, and many of them faced blanket denials.
The issue, he said, boiled down
to parents' freedom to choose schools for their children. "We
simply disagree with them over the issue of parental choice within
our public schools," he said, though Ventura "already
granted some transfers."
Should Ventura hold to their agreement, Riley recommended "halting
the application process for developing dependent charters"
for the next school year. Should Ojai schools be designated as
charter schools, all children could attend those schools without
requiring the approval of their home district.
Board president Tim Peddicord said the letter from Arriaga still
expressed a hard line about those Oak View students belonging
to the Ventura district, and indicated that the issue wasn't
likely to go away. "As we go along, and they don't live
up to their agreement, we'll declare war, whatever it takes,
if we find blanket rejections," he said.
Riley said that all options were open, including forming charter
schools and even annexing Oak View into the Ojai district. "I
think we've taken the right stance," he said. "We have
a year to work on this."
John Walker, the district's classified personnel director, is
also a trustee with the Ventura Unified School District. He said,
"We're somewhat divided on this," but that the board
did not want to "force Ojai to become a dependent charter,
and lose another 300 students."
Peddicord said that annexation should be examined. "I feel
strongly that the people of Oak View should be in the Ojai district."
Dr. Tim Baird, the district's assistant superintendent, who will
take the helm of the district July 1 after Riley assumes the
top post with the Huntington Beach Unified High School District,
said, "We'll be looking at annexation in all its forms."
The bleak budget picture lightened somewhat this week, as the
district learned that it had gained back about $250,000 from
earlier forecasts. That means, with budget cuts already made,
it only needed to make an additional $100,000 to $300,000 to
close the gap. While the budget picture is likely to change as
legislators in Sacramento go toe-to-toe with Gov. Davis over
the state's record shortfall, Riley said these are the budget
numbers the district needs to proceed with its own budget, due
for board approval at the June 24 meeting.
Another bit of bright news shining through the budget clouds,
Riley said, was that the district was able to hire back three
teachers from the 12.4 positions it was forced to eliminate in
The board broke ranks from its usual consensus with the 4-1 vote
on whether to loan $300,000 to the Ojai Performing Arts Center
foundation to draw up plans for the 400-seat auditorium at Nordhoff
High School. Board members expressed concerns about getting that
money back should donor pledges fall through, and about clearly
establishing the school district's priority of use.
"I just don't feel comfortable about having to collect on
this," said Rikki Horne before casting her lone vote of
Bob Unruhe said he wanted "a clear statement of use of the
facility, and who should have priority on the use of the facility.
Otherwise, there could be trouble down the road."
Dr. Marty Babayco, principal of Meiners Oak Elementary School,
said that community groups and the schools work together routinely
on productions and use of space, such as Matilija Junior High
School auditorium, where sets from the recent Nordhoff spring
musical were used by three different groups. "The arts community
of Ojai has become a lot closer because of your interest,"
Joan Kemper, representing the arts center foundation, said there
was risk involved, but "should the center not be built (by
the foundation), that money's not lost. You'll have plans for
an auditorium you definitely need." She also noted that
students would learn valuable job skills, whether it was working
on school or community productions.
Board member Kathi Smith agreed. "This is a prudent way
for us to take a leadership role. We just have to step into that
breach, but we're not doing it recklessly."
The motion carried, with the provision that a memorandum of understanding
be drawn up to state that the school district would have first
call on the facility.
Employees and students were also recognized at Tuesday's meeting,
as mechanic Don Downard was recognized as the district's classified
employee of the year. The district's transportation supervisor,
Eric Ordway, said, "Every manager has that ideal employee
they love working for them, and Don is that. Assistant Superintendent
Jim Berube, said, "The transportation department is absolutely
running perfectly," noting that it safely handles 900 students
in the morning and 1,100 in the evening.
Mira Monte Elementary School sixth graders Kelsey and Carey Jonker
presented their award-winning speeches, from an annual oratorical
competition sponsored by the Optimist Club. Kelsey, who won the
zone 6 contest and competed recently in a regional contest in
Palm Springs, spoke about the importance of maintaining an optimistic
outlook in local schools, despite budget pressures and declining
enrollment, "I feel the only way to make it through the
tough times we face is to work together and keep an optimistic
attitude towards learning."
Carey spoke about how pioneers were powered by their positive
attitudes. "All the groups that formed this country had
high hopes and a strong will."
In other business, the board approved, as required by the No
Child Left Behind law, single plans for student achievement and
its local educational agency plan. Though the law is still sketchy,
districts are required to have plans in place to hold the districts
accountable and flexible. Baird said, "All across America,
school boards are approving these, I guarantee it." Babayco
said there "was still a lot of work to do" on these
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