Doc Rioux At Large

Ideas needed for solving school crowding problems

Richard "Doc" Rioux · September 15, 1996

The bottom line for the Newhall School District is that there are not enough seats in schools for all the children who need them.

The number of children entering schools was seriously underestimated, and the reduction of teacher-to-student ratios in the lower grades made the situation worse by reducing classroom capacity in every school.

When planning for the Stevenson Ranch School began, we heard it would take eight years to reach capacity. It took one year to not only reach capacity but also exceed it. There are more than 920 children attending class there, and seven new portables are being moved onto the campus to accommodate the growing need. It won't be enough.

Parents are hurt, angry, anxious and demanding answers. It turns out that the current president of the school board, Susan Edwards, was right two years ago when she argued that the Valencia Summit children should not be moved from Old Orchard School into Stevenson Ranch. Most Summit parents and a majority on the board disagreed with her, so the district moved the Summit children and all the other children living west of I-5 into the new school. This left Old Orchard and Wiley Canyon under capacity.

No one wants to move children around the schools in the district again. It's not right, it's not fair, and it could have been avoided with better planning and more intelligent anticipation. But here we are. What are parents supposed to do now? How will district officials and board members get through this mess with the least disruption and negative impact on children?

Another bond issue: The board will no doubt entertain the possibility of submitting a bond issue to voters to build schools. Good luck! A two-thirds "yes" vote is required to pass the bond measure. The people of the district rejected the last bond issues by significant margins. Unless there's a superb marketing strategy behind it, the effort will be a waste of time and money (it costs $50,000 to float a bond issue).

Multi-track education: Placing children in year-round schooling on different tracks at different times of the day is a terrible solution few parents or teachers want. Multi-track rarely works well. The quality of education deteriorates as children are bounced around from classroom to classroom with a depersonalization that is disquieting.

Move on more portables: Crowded schools are better than multi-track schools. With a full-time assistant principal to help Mrs. Von Buelow and three crossing guards to deal with traffic, more portables could be placed at Stevenson Ranch on the playing field, which has yet to be used anyway since no one seems to be able to install a proper sprinkler system. There appears to be room for more portables at Valencia Valley School and Old Orchard as well. Try the adjacent parks. Forget Meadows, Peachland and Newhall. There's no more room there.

Building a temporary school: I believe a site could be located in one of the city parks or the upper field at College of the Canyons or the unused land across the street from California Institute of the Arts or even below the Stevenson Ranch School in the proposed 16-acre county park.

There are some rather nice modular schools which can be assembled that don't look like a bunch of portables. Such satellite schools could house 400 to 500 children at a cost of about $1.5 million each. It's worth exploring this option seriously by opening discussions with COC, The Newhall Land and Farming Company, the City of Santa Clarita and Los Angeles County. A site could be leased for five years at low rent until a large permanent school could be built in Porta Bella, or in Phase III of Stevenson Ranch, or in Westridge -- if the environmentalists in SCOPE would ever decide to stop holding the development legal hostage.

As for another elementary school in Stevenson Ranch, this could happen if the process of grading the proposed site was accelerated and if the district allowed the developer to build a no-frills school independently of state interference. According to school board member Ron Winkler, "Instead of spending $7 million on a new school through the state, the developer might build one for an estimated $1.5 million."

In summary, before they push for a bond measure or adopt multi-track, the members of the Newhall School District board should explore a variety of innovative approaches for solving their overcrowding problems. This is not the time to say no to anything but to discuss everything. It's not time for a civil war between territorial parental groups. Let's put our egos aside and focus on solutions. After all, it's our children and the quality of their education that matters here. The school board might find it wise to appoint a task force of smart people from the district -- to include parents, teachers and school principals -- to survey opinions.

If you have any ideas to share, please send them to the district office and/or attend the next school board meeting, 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Meadows School. Be creative, pray a little, stay active, and get involved!

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Dr. Richard Rioux is a resident of Stevenson Ranch. His commentary appears on Sundays.


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