Before making any final decisions regarding the future of Owens Valley School, local leaders have decided to take a close look at the possibility of consolidating the Independence school district with another local school.
Owens Valley is facing lapsation, or closure, due to declining enrollment.
The Inyo County Committee on School District Organization, comprised of members of the Inyo County Board of Education, decided Tuesday to perform a unification study that will answer questions about staffing and funding a unified district.
Members of the committee also asked that, once the unification study is complete, the Office of Education fund an economic impact study that will tell community members what kinds of economic impacts, good and bad, will come of unification.
Superintendent of Schools Dr. Terry McAteer, stressed that there is no decision-making in the unification study, and the resulting document will be used only to gather information for community members, who will ultimately vote on unification if school leaders decide to go that route.
Owens Valley is facing lapsation because it may not have the required 11 students attending class daily.
The school currently has 13 students, but, according to Principal/Superintendent Joel Hampton, it is unlikely that the school will meet the state mandated average daily attendance standard.
If the school doesn’t meet the 11 ADA requirement, it will be considered lapsed, and could appeal to the Board of Education for a deferral, which would allow the school to continuing operating for up to three years in hopes of finding more students.
The school could also unify with either Lone Pine or Big Pine schools, or change the way it presents education by becoming an academy with a strong focus on academics.
All those options are still on the table, McAteer said, but the Board of Education wants to make all possible information available so, if the school does lapse, the Owens Valley School District Board of Trustees and community members can make an educated decision on where to take the school.
The unification study the committee approved this week is modeled after a similar study conducted in Bishop last year.
The unification study group will consist of representatives from Big Pine, Owens Valley and Lone Pine school districts. The committee is asking for one school administrator, one business manager, one employee and one trustee from each school district.
The committee will also appoint two community leaders from each of the communities to sit on the unification board and each of the school districts have been invited to invite a student to join the talks, but, due to the busy schedule of high school students, they are not required to attend.
McAteer will serve as the secretary and chair of the unification committee.
The group is scheduled to meet six times between Jan. 10 and Feb. 9 and release the unification study some time in February.
The first meeting of the unification committee will be held from 6-8 p.m. Monday, Jan. 10 at Big Pine School. At that meeting the committee is scheduled to tour Big Pine School, discuss the unification process, finances and personnel.
The following meeting, is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 12 at Lone Pine School. The committee is scheduled to tour the school and discuss business services and governance for the schools should they unify.
The next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 19, will be held at Owens Valley School, will again include a tour of the school, and focus on discussions about school ground maintenance and transportation of students if the schools unify.
The next three meetings will be held at the Inyo County Superintendent of School’s Office in Independence.
The meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 26 will include the first draft of a report regarding the topics covered in the previous meetings and a discussion about how facilities in Independence will be used if the schools unify.
The second to last meeting will be held Feb. 2, and include a discussion of administration, curriculum and programs.
The final meeting will be held Feb. 9 and include a final review of the draft report.
The School District Organization Committee agreed that, no matter what the outcome of the study is, or what avenue Owens Valley School takes after this school year, it will be important for community members and education leaders to know what the pros and cons of unification will be.