With the fate of Owens Valley School up in the air due to declining enrollment, a recent study has shined some light on options for educating youth in Independence.
A study committee made up of representatives from Lone Pine, Owens Valley and Big Pine school districts released its consolidation study regarding the future of Owens Valley School as it faces lapsation.
Owens Valley School District will lapse if it falls below the state-mandated 12 students.
It currently has 11 kids enrolled.
The committee reviewed two scenarios for the school’s future: consolidation of Owens Valley with either Big Pine or Lone Pine school districts, which would create one district; or consolidating only the high school grades of Owens Valley with either Lone Pine or Big Pine, while maintaining an elementary school district in Independence, renamed the Owens Valley Elementary School District.
In its report, the committee outlines the benefits and foreseeable problems with each scenario.
Before Owens Valley falls into lapsation, Inyo County Superintendent of Schools Terry McAteer has the ability to call an election of voters in the affected districts to see what scenario is preferred by residents.
If the district does fall into lapsation, the County Committee on School District Organization must hold a public hearing and then vote to determine the disposition of the school district.
The CCSDO may defer the decision for up to three years in hopes that the Owens Valley is able to boost its enrollment or to further study consolidation options.
Consolidation Committee members from Lone Pine High School have said that consolidation with Owens Valley would be detrimental to both schools’ finances, and recommended continued collaboration between the two districts without consolidation.
“It doesn’t appear to be in the best financial interest of LPUSD to consider consolidating with Owens Valley USD,” said Lone Pine Superintendent of Schools Larry Todd.
Lone Pine schools have an agreement with Sierra Sands Unified School District in Kern County to share revenues generated by the Coso Geothermal Plant. Due to the agreement, Lone Pine schools receive a significant increase in revenues.
“Under a consolidation or lapsation scenario between Lone Pine and Owens Valley, $845,000 of OVUSD’s property tax revenues would be used to support the new district while an additional $462,676 would be automatically sent to Sierra Sands USD per the agreement,” the consolidation study report states. “If Owens Valley USD consolidates or lapsed with Big Pine USD, all of the $1.3 million of Owens Valley property tax revenues would be used to educate the Owens Valley youth within the new district and no revenues would be shared with Sierra Sands USD.”
Big Pine Superintendent Pamela Jones said she supports consolidating Big Pine and Owens Valley schools.
According to the study, “the similar attributes of both districts create an opportunity to highlight strengths while streamlining administrative overhead needed under the current system.”
If Owens Valley is to merge with either school district, the committee said it supports a system that will allow school board members to be elected by trustee districts, which would mean that, no matter what school Owens Valley merges with, at least one resident from the Independence area will be elected to that school board.
The committee also pointed out that, “Even with standard services that currently exist, consolidation or lapsation would create some administration cost savings created by the elimination of Owens Valley USD.”
If and when the schools consolidate, certified staff from both schools will be placed onto a seniority list and a newly negotiated salary schedule and seniority will be used to determine staff for the new district.
Classified staff, however, are protected from layoffs by state law for two years following consolidation.
Administrators, under consolidation or lapsation, are granted no reemployment rights under the law. The newly formed district board would be responsible for determining who will be the new administrator.
Owens Valley Superintendent Joel Hampton has been a vocal advocate of maintaining Owens Valley School District as a stand-alone district by establishing an academic academy that would provide a rigorous, standards-based curriculum. Hampton has said that advanced placement classes, small class sizes and individual instruction would attract students throughout the county to Owens Valley High School.
Currently, Owens Valley is considering dropping out of competitive athletics, which would allow students at Owens Valley to participate on sports teams at either Big Pine or Lone Pine high schools.
The consolidation study is available through the Inyo County Office of Education website, www.inyo.k12.ca.us .
Residents are encouraged to review the report.