Cayucos appeal in hands of state officials

Long wait expected before there's word on whether decision is final

ktanner@thetribunenews.comNovember 15, 2012 

Is there a decades-old written agreement in which Cayucans agreed to send their high school students to a Cambria campus?

If so, people who are trying to cancel that arrangement, in place for approximately 80 years, want to see the document.

If it exists, such an agreement could affect an ongoing struggle by some Cayucos parents who would prefer to have their children at Morro Bay High School rather than Coast Union High School, which they say is detached from the Cayucos community by more miles and fewer sports and social ties.

If those parents prevail, according to Coast Unified School District officials, the transfer would knock a $1.2 million hole in the district’s $9.5 million annual budget, and could trigger changes as dramatic as laying off a dozen teachers and closing the town’s only middle school.

The appeal

On Nov. 10, county school officials Fedexed to the California Department of Education official documents explaining Cayucos parents’ rationale for the appeal filed against a county committee’s decision to keep the Cayucos high school students on the Cambria campus rather than transferring them to Morro Bay high or another campus in the San Luis Obispo Coastal Unified School District.

Julian Crocker, county superintendent of schools, told The Cambrian earlier this month that his office, which provides support to the County Committee on School Organization, sent to the state the appeal and an administrative record of the committee’s process in denying the petition for transfer.

Crocker said the appeal is now in the hands of the state Board of Education. He estimated it could be a long process, and doesn’t expect any initial action until next summer, other than possible requests for additional information.

And ultimately, voters still would have to approve the territory transfer.

Is there an agreement?

Crocker said his staff is looking for any such Cayucos-Coast Unified agreement, even though he’s not at all sure there is one.
He said the usual practice is for the state to decide where a community’s students will go to school. A subsequent agreement between districts might cover such elements as how to share transportation, administration and other services, Crocker said, but that agreement would be in addition to the state’s decision. “It’s not within the purview of an elementary school district to decide where their high school students will attend school.”

 
The appeal, enclosed in a thick binder, included 17 pages of dense legal explanation for the action. Chief petitioner/appellant Gretchen Ross said she submitted the document to the county offices on Oct. 30.

Ross alleges she’s been unable to file complete statements in a timely manner because she’s been unable to “obtain many documents necessary to the hearing of this appeal, especially copies of prior “sharing” agreements “that would substantiate and define the relationship between Coast Unified School District and Cayucos Elementary School District as far as serving Cayucos high school documents.”

The appeal also alleges that Cayucos residents Stuart Selkirk and Kathryn Madonna have violated the County Committee’s code of ethics by voting on this issue when they have previously supported and advocated for unifying the Coast and Cayucos school districts.

The appeal also lists other allegations.

Among other charges the appellants listed as justification for the appeal include:

• Allegedly false legal interpretation by county officials and its counsel, which then influenced the committee decision. That legal advice apparently said that, if the issue went to a vote, a majority of voters in the Cambria territory would have to approve the change for it to happen, something the appeal disputes.

•  An alleged misstatement by Crocker that, if the petition to transfer had been approved, the Cayucos Elementary School District would no longer be part of the Coast district, but would become part of the San Luis Coastal district. Instead, the petitioners say, they seek to transfer the Cayucos high school feeder district, not the entire Cayucos district.

• The estimated cost of $90,000 for a required election on the transfer, which appellants allege is only approximately valid if voters in all three districts participate in the process. If that was the case, appellants say, the election would cost the Cayucos district $3,900, the Coast district $7,700 and San Luis Coastal $75,400.

• Allegations the committee may not have been informed that they could waive implementing the section of code that specifies which districts participate in such an election, something the petitioners say is the case.

Crocker said, “I think the committee did a very diligent review of the situation and paid very close attention to” and took into consideration a consultant’s report on the transfer request and the nine criteria on which the committee could approve or deny it.
The appellants, however, disagreed with three of the committee’s criteria findings, on if the transfer would negatively affect educational programs, school facility costs or the fiscal status of the affected districts.

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