SANTA CLARITA — Merging the Santa Clarita Valley's five school districts would lead to a more uniform curriculum and do away with redundant jobs, but cost more overall because of higher salaries, according to a panel of local superintendents.
"It is easier for a board to control a curriculum in a K-12 district than the situation we have here," said Scott Brown, superintendent of the Castaic Union School District, which includes kindergarten through eighth grades.
Santa Clarita Valley students attend elementary school in one of four districts, then enter the William S. Hart Union High School District. Most enter Hart beginning in the seventh grade, except for those in Castaic, who enter in the ninth grade.
Unification talks have started and stopped several times, and the idea is apparently being toyed with once again.
About 25 residents attended a two-hour meeting with one retired and three present superintendents presented this week by Citizens for a Better Santa Clarita Valley. The group formed more than a year ago in opposition to a state expressway proposal and conducts forums on community issues, including cable access television and a valleywide homeowners association.
Unification may have benefits through coordinating programs and efforts, but also has difficulties, according to school officials.
"This all sounds good in theory," Hart Supt. Walter Swanson said. "It's not really quite as clean an issue as on the surface it might seem to be."
New jobs are often created with enlarged districts, offsetting those saved by eliminating redundant positions. A unified district must also pay its teachers the same as the highest-paying district it includes, driving up salary costs, officials said.
"In every case of unification, it costs more, not less," said Troy Bramlett, superintendent of the Saugus Union School District.
Ordering supplies for a larger district can lead to discounts, but those can be accomplished when separate districts pool purchases, the superintendents said.
Brown, who has worked as a teacher and principal in unified districts, also noted that elementary school needs can be overlooked in districts with higher grade levels.
"In my experience, you end up answering the loudest voices, and those tend to come from the high school," Brown said.