Committee says it didn't break law in decision on Cayucos student transfer

ktanner@thetribunenews.comFebruary 5, 2013 

A San Luis Obispo County schools committee on Monday dismissed allegations that it violated California law in deciding Cayucos high schoolers should continue attending school in Cambria.

Cayucos parents organized a petition drive last year asking that students go to San Luis Coastal Unified School District instead of Coast Unified School District, largely because Morro Bay High School is closer than Coast Union High School.

Approximately a third of about 100 Cayucos high school students attend Coast Union; others get transfers or go around residency requirements to attend other schools. Coast Unified gets about $1.2 million, 12 percent of its annual budget, from the Cayucos area.

The County Committee on School District Organization voted 7-2 on Oct. 10 to deny the petition, largely because, members said at the time, Cambria voters would have the right to vote on the issue and would vote against it, since approving it could cripple Coast Unified financially.

Ron Wilson of Cayucos sent a letter Jan. 8 accusing the committee of violating the Ralph M. Brown Act, California’s open-meeting law governing public agencies. He alleged that the committee should not have met in closed session in October to discuss which school territories would be included in any election on the territory transfer petition. Wilson also surmised the committee, in that closed session, “approved in concept” which districts would be included but didn’t disclose that action when the group reconvened.

Wilson demanded the committee reconvene in Cayucos, void the decision to disapprove the territory-transfer petition and then reconsider the matter, including who would get to vote on the matter.

About four dozen people attended Monday’s meeting. Nearly a dozen spoke, all of them favoring — some even pleading for — the committee to reconsider its decision and approve the petition, saying it’s their money and their children and Cayucos voters should decide where Cayucos students attend school.

Near the end of a nearly two-hour meeting of the committee Monday night, committee Chairman Jack Jones read a statement saying the Oct. 10 closed session was lawful because of a “very real exposure to potential litigation regarding the issue of setting the election area for a territory transfer.” The Brown Act includes an exception allowing meetings to be closed when there is “significant exposure to litigation.”

Jones also said the closed session was properly noted on the agenda and adequate time was provided for comments, and that action on the election area would only have been needed if the transfer petition had been approved, which it was not.

A separate appeal filed by Cayucos parent and petition organizer Gretchen Ross with the state Board of Education has yet to be decided. Appeal allegations include the lack of documentation of agreements defining the relationship between Cayucos Elementary School District and Coast Unified School District, a conflict of interest on the board that rejected the petition, the assumption that Cambria voters would vote, and that the election would cost some $90,000.

County school Superintendent Julian Crocker said in November he didn’t expect action on the appeal until this summer.

Wilson said after Monday’s meeting he’s not sure what the petition backers’ next move will be.

The Cayucos Elementary School District Board of Trustees has set a special hearing at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, to consider asking the state for a waiver to allow only Cayucos voters to vote on the issue in the event the state board overturns the county committee’s decision.

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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