Cayucos parents push petition to let their teens switch school districts

Cayucos residents made their case Monday in support of a petition that would allow their high school students to attend school in the San Luis Coastal Unified School District instead of traveling to Cambria as they do now.

Parents argued at the first of three planned public hearings on the topic that their children and families already have an established network of social connections through extracurricular activities in nearby Morro Bay because of its close proximity to Cayucos — something they say isn’t the case with Cambria.

“There is a sense of community in Cayucos that relates to going south,” said Robert Budd, who said both of his sons were actively involved in sports in Morro Bay growing up.

Cayucos residents Gretchen Ross, Suzanna Love and Pati Hutchinson are leading the effort to change the districting. All have or have had high school students subjected to the current system.

“We want our kids to be able to complete their education in the community we are raising them in,” Ross said.

Other speakers argued that the majority of students already attend Morro Bay High School after completing eighth grade in Cayucos by getting transfers through the County Office of Education, using false addresses or renting homes in Morro Bay to qualify for the district.

San Luis Coastal Unified Superintendent Eric Prater confirmed that sentiment and advocated for the change because of the financial burden placed on the school district. Despite a number of students attending high school in Morro Bay, funding for those students stays with Coast Union in Cambria.

Of the 29 eighth-graders graduating this year, only 10 might attend Coast Union because they don’t qualify for interdistrict transfers, according to Coast Superintendent Chris Adams.

If the school boundaries were changed to allow Cayucos’ high school students to go south instead of north, then the funding would also go south.

“Property tax revenue goes to Coast while the students from Cayucos come to us,” Prater said. “We believe it is unfair and needs to be remedied.”

Leaders from Coast Union are adamantly against the change because of the loss of funding, estimated to be about $1.2 million a year.

Instead, 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 payment from the state.

Adams has said the cut could lead the district to firing 12 of its 57 teachers.

Coast Union school board President Cindy Fratto said the potential impacts are “impossible to enumerate,” and the change would cause “immense hurdles for the district.”

She also said the district prides itself on being financially stable and that the district has not had to lay off teachers in the past nine years as surrounding districts have had to drastically cut their budgets and staff.

School board member Del Clegg said that San Luis Coastal Unified was only supporting the change because of the funding that would come with it.

“I think they might have tried to find the cash cow,” Clegg said.

Prater defended the district’s stance by saying that the community is fragmented by the system as it is now.

“We don’t want to make this a war between school districts,” Prater said.

Cayucos resident Michael Foster said the financial impact to the district should not outweigh the needs of the students and their families.

“Does the good of bureaucracy outweigh the needs of students?” said Foster, who said the decision should be left up to voters.

The County Committee of School District Organizations, a countywide, appointed panel with two members from each supervisory district and one at-large member, will ultimately decide whther the petition makes it to the ballot.

The last time the committee considered an issue was in 2007 when a territory transfer between San Miguel and Bradley in Monterey County was proposed. The committee did not approve it, said Julian Crocker, county schools superintendent.

A consultant hired by the county will have up to four months to do a required study of 10 different things that would be affected by such a change — from financial impacts and what each school offers its students to racial and ethnic balance.

The committee will then make a decision. If the petition is approved, it would likely be on the ballot in 2014.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.