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Siting of Oxnard School

May 09, 1999

Re "Siting of Schools Near Agriculture Calls for Creative Solutions," Ventura County Perspective, May 2.

The Oxnard School District agrees completely that the siting of schools near agriculture calls for creative solutions. Especially when one realizes that the entire city of Oxnard is located on agricultural land. There is no building in Oxnard that is not built on what was once farmland. There is no place to build anything in Oxnard in the future--not homes, not schools, not industrial buildings, not shopping centers--that will not be located on what is or once was farmland.

Given that reality, the board of trustees and district staff are well aware of the potential problems associated with locating schools near agricultural areas. It is because of our deep concern and attention to the issues raised by Kim Uhlich that the Juan Laguna Soria School is one year behind schedule. The district is spending millions of extra dollars to rebuild and reuse the undersized Ramona School in part because of the delay.

Ms. Uhlich is well intentioned but, unfortunately, misinformed. To state that the proposed site of Soria School is "miles away from the community the school serves," or that it is being placed on the "cheapest undeveloped site" is erroneous. The proposed site abuts existing development and so is far from the cheapest available. However, it would be cheaper than condemning homes and relocating families to create a school site as an in-fill project. Even such an action would still be placing Soria School on land that was once agricultural.

Small campuses are possible if we accept that we must crowd children into less than optimal conditions with smaller playgrounds than state standards require and construct multistory schools for 5- to 12-year-olds who must negotiate stairs or use elevators. Those alternatives are neither necessary nor desirable, except to a few people with a special agenda that may not include the interests of the children of Oxnard.

As Ms. Uhlich points out, undersized campuses require a waiver from the state. I think it's important to emphasize that the average school size in Oxnard is 900 students; the average in the rest of Ventura County is 550 students. So even an "undersized" campus for Oxnard would house almost double the students in any other school in the county. For the past five years, the Oxnard School District has grown by an average of 600 students each year. This means that each year, for the past five years, the Oxnard School District has added more students than one "average" school in the rest of the county--or a total of five "average" schools in Ventura County. In the past five years, we have been able to build only two new schools: Frank School and Brekke School. The other students have been crowded into existing schools.

This is only one reality of many that the district must take into account. Another is that there is no more room in Oxnard schools. Unless the district is able to open a new school in the 2001-2002 school year, it will be necessary to undo class-size reduction and return kindergarten through third-grade students to 35 per classroom.

We can seek a waiver to build undersized campuses, locate schools in industrial areas or under the flight path of the Oxnard Airport or next to Highway 1. Why would we do that? Why would we want to put the children of Oxnard in a facility that is not as good as other schools in other communities in the county? Especially keeping in mind, always, that anywhere we build in Oxnard is or was farmland.

Farming practices can be controlled. We are working with all of the farmers adjacent to our existing campuses, who care about children and who are controlling their practices to assure the safety of our students. We cannot alter the practices of airline pilots or freeway drivers. That is why state law and regulations prohibit locating schools in those areas without a very special reason and a waiver.

We invite the Environmental Defense Center to work with us "creatively" to alleviate the massive overcrowding in our district, while it works on its anti-pesticide and farmland protection agenda at a state level. The Oxnard School District has no intention of becoming a lightning rod for any environmental program. Our only intent is to prevent double sessions, and to provide the children of Oxnard with a quality education, at the very least commensurate with that provided to other children throughout the county.

RICHARD DUARTE, Superintendent, Oxnard School District

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