It makes more sense for high school students living in Cayucos to go 4 miles south to school than 15 miles north, petitioners say. They want Cayucos 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 over the course of four years of high school.
But changing the long-standing “feeder” arrangement established over 80 years ago, before Morro Bay High School was built, could have “devastating” consequences for Coast Union, says district 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 Unified, which like Coast 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’s approximately $10.4 million budget—could force the district to reduce its teaching force by a dozen of its 57 or so instructors, slash the number of class topics offered and could even force the closure of Santa Lucia Middle School and Leffingwell High School.
It will, he said, “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?”
Making their case
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 subject to the current system. They’ve conducted a survey and collected signatures on a successful petition drive to initiate the process of formally considering the switch.
They say many Cayucos parents commute southward for jobs, shopping and taking youngsters to sports and various lessons.
Ross said the concerns are “community, geography and safety.”
The petition cites financial and time hardships when Cayucos children attend Coast Union, such as a 15-mile daily commute on a two-lane, undivided stretch of Highway 1 to Cambria versus the shorter 4-mile trek to Morro Bay on a safer four-lane divided highway.
Before circulating the petition, proponents circulated surveys to find out how Cayucos residents felt. Of the 440 survey responses, 89 percent support 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 have a bus to and from Cayucos each school day, but it does not accommodate students participating in extra-curricular activies. The district says it offered to provide such a service, but got little or no response.
How many students where?
Adams said that, of the 29 Cayucos Elementary School District eighth graders due to graduate Friday, June 15, 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 inter-district 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 inter-district transfers.
Consideration of the proposed change will take years. If and when it took effect, Cayucos students might still have a trip ahead of them.
“Everyone is assuming the (Cayucos) students would automatically go to Morro Bay High School,” according to county School 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.
Their would be no change for the Cayucos Elementary School District either way; it would remain independent, Crocker added.
The County Committee of School District Organizations, 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 (see box).
Then, a consultant hired by the county will have up to four months to study 10 different areas affected by such a change — from financial impacts and what each school offers its students to racial and ethnic balance.
After they review that report, the committee will make a decision. Whichever way the decision goes, the losing side can appeal. Ultimately, voters will make the decision, but Crocker doesn’t expect that to happen until 2014 at the earliest.