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Proposal to consolidate school districts won’t affect Kenwood

Proposal to consolidate school districts won’t affect  Kenwood

By Tracy Salcedo

Public schools throughout Sonoma County are experiencing declining enrollment, which results in declining revenues for school districts. Santa Rosa City Schools is studying ways to address the problem and believes merging with its feeder districts, including the one-school Kenwood School District, is part of the solution.

What does that mean for Kenwood Elementary School? At this point, not much.

As outlined in a recent article in the Press Democrat, Santa Rosa City Schools commissioned a study that found consolidating the 10-district feeder system into two districts would result in enhancement of student instruction within the district, as well as economies of scale. The article also points out the hurdles such a merger would face, including approvals from the targeted small districts and county and state approvals, which Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Steve Herrington said could take five years or more.

Nate Myers, Kenwood School’s principal and superintendent, agrees and is not worried about Kenwood School being subject to a hostile takeover by Santa Rosa. In addition to the fact that finalizing such a merger would be “years and years” down the line, Myers explained that the idea of consolidating to address funding deficits for schools is an idea that “comes up periodically” in Sonoma County, which encompasses 40 school districts. “Every time a district finds itself losing money, this is an answer,” he said.

A confounding major issue for such mergers, Myers explained, is reconciling the cost savings of the district looking to consolidate with impacts on educational programs offered by the smaller districts. While Santa Rosa City Schools might benefit financially, smaller districts that don’t face similar budget woes might not.

For example, the Kenwood Education Foundation (KEF) raises money for programs at Kenwood School, including STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) instruction, arts classes, and physical education. In a merger scenario, dollars raised by the KEF would no longer directly support Kenwood students but instead would be rolled into, for example, a new Rincon Valley K-12 school district. Myers pointed out that the state, which must approve any merger, looks at 10 criteria when deciding whether to approve creation of a unified school district. One of them is whether the consolidation would “promote sound educational performance.” The consolidation as proposed, he observed, would “significantly impact” Kenwood School’s programming.

“We would lose all the flavors that make us so tasty,” Myers said.

Additionally, because Kenwood is a basic aid district, meaning it is community funded, “we would lose about $5,000 per kid” — a fiscal impact that would not be looked at favorably. And even if the state gave the go-ahead, the proposed consolidation would have to go to a vote. The Kenwood board, Myers noted, “would be leading the charge” in pointing out why consolidation is “not a good idea.”

The upshot? Even if Santa Rosa City Schools pushes ahead with plans to consolidate, there’s a long, bumpy road ahead. In the meantime, Kenwood’s one-school district remains on solid footing.