Parents say Coast Union just too far from Cayucos

It makes more sense for high school students living in Cayucos to go four miles south to school than 15 miles north, say petitioners who want Cayucos students transferred from Coast Unified School District to San Luis Coastal Unified School District.

That could save Cayucos students and their families hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars related to travel over the course of four years of high school.

But changing the long-standing “feeder” arrangement established more than 80 years ago, before Morro Bay High School was built, could have “devastating” consequences for Coast Unified, according to that district’s superintendent, Chris Adams.

His district stands to lose $1.2 million a year in property tax revenue, Adams estimated. That money would go to San Luis Coastal, which like Coast Unified is a “basic aid” district, receiving much of its funding from property taxes rather than per-student payments from the state.

Adams calculates the fiscal hit — about 11 percent of Coast Unified’s approximately $10.4 million budget — could force the district to reduce its teaching force by a dozen of its 57 or so instructors and slash the number of class topics offered. It could even lead to the closure of Santa Lucia Middle School and Leffingwell High School, he said.

If the students are shifted, he said, the move will “basically devastate this school system so six or seven of them can go to Morro Bay. Does the good of a few outweigh the good for the many?”

While the transfer would result in a big cut for Coast Unified, it would only provide a small boost to San Luis Coastal: about 1.8 percent of its most recent $76.3 million budget.

Making their case

Cayucos residents Gretchen Ross, Suzanna Love and Pati Hutchinson are leading the effort to change the districting. The Ross children are at Cayucos Elementary; Love’s son graduated from Coast Union, and her daughter will be an eighth-grader this fall in Cayucos; Hutchinson’s children attended Cayucos Elementary and then transferred to San Luis Obispo High School.

The trio conducted a survey and collected signatures in a successful petition drive to initiate the process of formally considering the switch.

They say many Cayucos parents commute southward for jobs and shopping, also heading that direction when they take their youngsters to sporting events and lessons.

Ross said the concerns are “community, geography and safety.”

The petition cites financial and time hardships placed upon Cayucos children who attend Coast Union High School. For instance, they face a 15-mile daily commute on a two-lane, undivided stretch of Highway 1 to Cambria rather than a four-mile trek to Morro Bay on a four-lane divided highway.

Before circulating the petition, proponents conducted surveys to find out how Cayucos residents felt. Of the 440 survey responses, 89 percent supported the change, Ross said.

Comments on the survey included:

“I find it ridiculous that we can see MBHS from our house and yet Coast Union is where we are supposed to send our kids to high school. We do not know anyone in Cambria and have no other ties to that community.”

“I want the students of Cayucos to go to their closest high school, and I want my property taxes to follow the kids.”

One parent estimated school-related mileage would be 1,249 a year at Morro Bay High, and 6,176 miles at Coast Union (which works out to about 34 miles a day for each of the school year’s 180 days).

Coast Unified does provide bus transportation to and from Cayucos each school day, but it does not accommodate students participating in extracurricular activities. The district says it offered to provide such a service, but got little or no response.

How many students?

Adams said that, of the 29 Cayucos Elementary School District eighth-graders due to graduate Friday, 12 had transferred into Cayucos Elementary and would not have attended Coast Union next year, anyway.

Of the remaining 17, he said, three already have interdistrict transfers to attend high schools other than Coast Union. Four other students have indicated that they’ll attend private schools.

That leaves 10 students. Adams estimates six might want to attend high schools other than Coast Union, but their families don’t qualify for interdistrict transfers.

Consideration of the proposed change will take years. Even if it is adopted, Cayucos students could still have a trip ahead of them.

“Everyone is assuming the (Cayucos) students would automatically go to Morro Bay High School,” said county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker, “But that’s a district decision, and some or all of the students could wind up going to San Luis Obispo High School,” especially if adding Cayucos students could overcrowd some Morro Bay classes.

There would be no change for the Cayucos Elementary School District either way; it would remain independent, Crocker added.

The process

The County Committee on School District Organization, a countywide, appointed panel with two members from each supervisory district and one at-large member, is holding three public hearings to take comment on the proposed change. Then a consultant hired by the county will have up to four months to study 10 areas that could be affected by such a change. Considerations will include everything from financial impacts and the programs offered at each school to racial and ethnic balance.

After they review that report, the committee members will make a decision. The losing side can appeal. Ultimately, voters will make the decision, but Crocker doesn’t expect that to happen until 2014 at the earliest.

Public hearings

The San Luis Obispo County Office of Education/County Committee on School District Organization will hold hearings on transferring Cayucos high school-age students into San Luis Coastal Unified School District from Coast Unified School District.

The hearings are set for:

5:30 p.m. Monday, Cayucos Elementary School gymnasium, 301 Cayucos Drive.

5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Coast Unified School District office/boardroom, 1350 Main St., Cambria.

5:30 p.m. June 25, Del Mar Elementary School multipurpose room, 501 Sequoia St., Morro Bay.

For details, call 782-7201 or go to www.slocoe.org.