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Board to Vote on Camarillo School Plan : Education: The proposal is designed to ease crowding. A committee formed two years ago put it together.

May 21, 1992|CAITLIN ROTHER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Pleasant Valley School District trustees will vote on a plan tonight that would change intermediate schools to middle schools by 1993, close one or two elementary schools, and pave the way for a year-round program.

The 50-page plan was put together by a committee of Camarillo parents, teachers, administrators and board members formed two years ago to find ways to ease crowding in the district's 13 schools.

District officials anticipate that enrollment in the 6,700-student district will grow by about 225 students a year so that, by the year 2000, three new elementary schools will be needed.

"We're trying to meet the needs of the long haul, not the short term," Associate Supt. Howard Hamilton said. "We know we can't meet the needs of everyone."

The committee recommendations, proposed in the wake of two school bond failures last year, are based on the assumption that the district can find a way to build a new elementary school by September, 1993.

"We do need to get that school in by 1993, or we're going to be overridden with people," Hamilton said. "It will be 'bus city' for a long time and that's expensive."

The plan calls for making Los Altos and Monte Vista intermediate schools and Las Colinas School into middle schools. Los Altos and Monte Vista would take students in grades six to eight, and Las Colinas would initially enroll students in grades four to eight, and later only six to eight.

Parents, board members and administrators have expressed support in the past for the middle school philosophy, which most school districts in Ventura County have adopted.

Middle schools use specialized programs and curriculum to teach students who are growing from childhood into adolescence, Hamilton said.

"From what I'm hearing from other people that have gone into it, it has a lot of merit," said Los Altos Principal Jim Williams.

Williams said middle schools help ease sixth-grade students into the seven-period day with less stress, and keep them in one school for three years. Intermediate schools offer two-year programs. But he acknowledged that some parents are worried that their children in sixth grade will be bullied by the older students.

"Any time there's a change, there's always . . . emotion getting into it," Williams said.

Some committee members said they are so frustrated with the trustees for taking months to study proposals, form committees and hold meetings that they just want a vote--any vote.

"Make a decision and we'll live with it," said Kathy Swenson, a committee member and mother of three.

By taking sixth-grade students from the 11 elementary schools and putting them into the middle schools, enrollment at some of the smaller elementary schools would drop so much that they would become too expensive to operate, Hamilton said.

Thus, the committee has recommended closing one or two elementary schools, moving the students to other schools to bring enrollment to about 600, the perfect size for a year-round program.

Hamilton declined to name which schools were likely candidates for closure, but he said it would depend on their size, age, and whether the population nearby is growing. The district's four oldest schools are Camarillo Heights, Valle Lindo, Santa Rosa and Los Primeros Structured schools, he said.

The district would have to acquire 36 portable classrooms under the middle school scenario, at a cost of $35,000 each. However, each school closure would save $200,000 in administrative and operating costs, Hamilton said.

Williams voiced concern that his school, Los Altos, where about 580 students are now enrolled, would grow to 800 or 900 students.

If the board approves the middle school component of the plan, and a new elementary school opens in 1993, year-round schools would be possible as early as 1995, Hamilton said. Year-round school allows more students to attend one school by putting them on different tracks, so that one track is always on vacation.

The committee recommended a third attempt to get a bond measure passed to build a new elementary school and to renovate the district schools, half of which are at least 30 years old. That election, possibly in March, 1993, at a cost of $1.25 per registered voter, would cost about $40,000, the plan says.

Although she said she would support such a measure, Martha Goodsell, president of Pleasant Valley's PTA Council and a committee member, sees little chance for its success.

"I would not be real optimistic, especially with the failure out here of Measure O," Goodsell said. The Oxnard Union High School District's Measure O, a $45-million bond measure for a new high school in Oxnard, failed in April by more than 11%.

Pleasant Valley officials have asked Pardee Construction, which deeded the six-acre Woodcreek School site to the district, to either build the $6-million school or loan the district the money to do so. Negotiations are continuing, said Bill Teller, Pardee's area project manager.

Teller said the final decision lies with a six-member management committee in Los Angeles.

The district committee's plan offers an alternative proposal: to leave the school system as is. That would require the purchase or leasing of 56 portable classrooms and 13 buses by the year 2000 to handle the projected increase in enrollment, Hamilton said.

Each new bus purchase costs $16,000 a year for seven years, as well as $35,000 a year for fuel, maintenance and driver's salary.

Without passage of a bond, the plan says, the district will have to continue to bus students across the city, remove the computer lab from each school, convert libraries and special program rooms into regular classrooms and begin year-round school.

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