SIMI VALLEY — Hoping to mend an ever-fraying line of communication, brass from the city and the school district will meet here Tuesday to discuss issues as disparate as crossing guards and development money.
"I'm hoping that we can have some kind of a cooperative discussion," said school trustee Diane Collins, who will meet with Mayor Greg Stratton, City Councilwoman Barbara Williamson, school board President Judy Barry, Interim Supt. Robert Purvis and Assistant Supt. Dave Kanthak. "I honestly don't know why, but every time I think we've got things smoothed over, the things seem to blow up again."
Specifically the school board and city have been squabbling for months over who should pay the salary for crossing guards, whether the school district should withdraw the full balance of a fund managed by the city development agency and if the schools should continue to sell city bus passes.
The crossing guard debate stems from a recent change in state law. Historically, the city covered crossing guard salaries and benefits--a $188,800 annual cost for Simi Valley's 20 guards. Under the change, cities are not explicitly directed to pay the crossing guard tab, nor are they prohibited from doing so.
In the spirit of shared responsibility, the city wants the school district to shoulder some of the cost.
School officials contend that public safety is wholly the city's purview. The city's counter-argument is that the school district should cover lawsuit liability because the city has agreed to finance salary and benefits for the guards.
Collins said her camp is unlikely to budge. "It's my understanding that we're committed to paying none of the crossing guard costs," including liability insurance, she said.
The school district's request to withdraw money from a fund administered by the city's Community Development Agency has also caused discussion among council members.
The fund exists to pay for capital improvements within the school district, and district officials said they needed the fund's full balance to pay for such projects as the Royal High School stadium and to service the debt on bonds issued in 1992.
But council members, acting as the agency's board, balked at handing over the $148,149 balance. City Manager Mike Sedell sent Purvis a letter Sept. 30 asking whether the money would go to future debt payments or past shortfalls. He also questioned how the district would find the cash to make debt payments once the $148,149 is gone.
In addition, Sedell asked for an update on the timetable of the construction projects, which will be discussed at Tuesday's meeting.
Sedell's requests perplexed school officials, Collins said.
"We have a long-standing agreement as to what that money goes for, and that is the debt servicing," Collins said. "We're just carrying out that agreement. . . . Our books are open to whoever wants to look at them. We have nothing to hide, but I'm not sure why the City Council wants to see them."
Williamson said city officials are also concerned about the possibility that the school district may stop selling bus passes at school. Although the passes will still be available at City Hall, many parents who work do not have time to visit the building during the city's office hours, Williamson said.
"We just feel it's a real disadvantage to students and parents to do this," she said.
Despite the testiness of recent discussions between the city and the district, Williamson said she is optimistic about the meeting. "I don't have problems with disagreement so long as it's productive," she said. "What I'm hoping for is some kind of resolution where we can say, 'Yeah, that's a workable solution.' "