Cayucos student transfer loses

Cayucos students will continue to go to high school in Cambria rather than transfer to Morro Bay High School, a county committee decided Wednesday night.

In what was clearly a difficult decision that required three motions to pass, members of the County Committee of School District Organization voted 7-2 to deny a petition to get on the ballot that would have allowed a “territory transfer” to permanently move Cayucos teens from Coast Unified School District to the San Luis Coastal School District.

Despite some regret, the committee took the action mainly because any election would have included Cambria residents, who most likely would have voted down the change.

“I do feel there’s something wrong with the present system … something wrong with Cambria getting paid to educate kids that San Luis Coastal is educating,” committee member Andy Hays said.

He said an election on the issue would be “a waste of time and money” because of requirements that would include Cambria in the election.

If the committee had approved the parent petition, members also would have had to decide which districts’ voters could participate in the public election on the issue.

For more than 80 years, Cayucos high schoolers have been part of the Coast Unified district, based in Cambria, and have attended Coast Union High School. Cayucos has its own elementary school district, which takes students through eighth grade and which wouldn’t have been directly affected by the change.

When a student transfers out of basic aid districts — which get a large percentage of their funding from property taxes — funding doesn’t follow to their new district. Coast Unified, San Luis Coastal and Cayucos Elementary are basic aid districts.

If ultimately approved, the transfer would have knocked a $1.2 million hole in Coast Unified School District’s $9.5 million annual budget. The current status is a problem for some Cayucos parents and, to some extent, for San Luis Coastal School District, which gets some Cayucos students but not the property tax money that pays for their education.

However, those who petitioned for the territory transfer said family impacts should trump district concerns, citing such effects as travel time and gasoline for the 28-to-34-mile roundtrip to Coast Unified on school days. They also cited their children’s ties to Morro Bay peers, through social events, sports and other extracurricular programs.

Del Clegg, a Coast Unified trustee, said, “The sad part is we still have parents who aren’t happy.” He hopes something constructive can be done to alleviate that.

The committee ultimately followed the advice of its consultant, Eric Smith of The Smith Group, who had detailed in a 45-page report that the financial and other effects of the proposed transfer would significantly disrupt the educational offerings at the Cambria district.

But the deciding factor appeared to be advice given to committee members in closed session Wednesday by counsel Chelsea Olson.

She said that, according to a rather obscure section of the state Education Code, the roster of voters would have to include Cambria voters because Coast Union High School has an average daily attendance of less than 900 students and the school district opposes the transfer. Also, a majority of voters from Cambria would have had to approve the transfer.

As committee member Larry Miller said, “Why spend $90,000 (for the election) and a great deal of time if a great number of people will say they don’t want” the territory transfer?

Getting Cambrians' approval was unlikely, according to several committee members, because Coast Unified’s Board of Trustees opposes the move that would have taken about $1.2 million in property taxes out of the district’s coffers each year, and Cambria property owners also would have had to assume full responsibility for repaying the rest of a 1998 bond measure now shared with Cayucos residents.

Committee member Betty Kulp said, “I feel dismayed that this little-known code is trumping what the committee might have decided. I feel it doesn’t matter what we as a committee decide. I feel that’s a travesty.”

According to testimony before the committee’s vote Wednesday, the transfer also would have accelerated a growing ethnic imbalance by removing Cayucos’ mostly Caucasian students from the mix. About 40 percent of Coast Union’s students are Hispanic, and that population is growing, according to a letter submitted by Chris Adams, Coast Unified’s superintendent.

The petitioners who proposed the transfer have five business days to appeal to the State Department of Education, according to Julian Crocker, the county’s superintendent of schools. Chief petitioner Gretchen Ross said after the meeting that she wasn’t ready to comment on any appeal.

In the meantime, representatives of the two districts say they’ll likely start negotiating about an agreement that would allow those students who wish to transfer into Morro Bay High to do so, and under which Coast would provide some property tax funding to San Luis Coastal to cover those educational expenses.