Staff and Students Rally Against Proposed School Campus

by Ethan Stewart

More than two hours of passionate public comment kicked off this
week’s Santa Barbara School District board meeting, as dozens of
faculty, students, and parents from La Cumbre Junior High turned
out to fight for the future of their school. Faced with a recent
board decision giving “conceptual approval” to a plan that would
relocate the Santa Barbara Community Academy (SBCA) elementary
school to the La Cumbre campus, a faculty-led movement crashed the
open mike, in which the public largely decried the numerous
difficulties and pitfalls associated with the planned merger. While
the district sees the plan as a way of simultaneously utilizing
open classrooms at the under-enrolled La Cumbre and reuniting the
academy — which now splits its students between two campuses, with
grades four through six at La Cumbre and grades kindergarten
through third downtown — opponents consider the proposed campus
colocation a recipe for disaster that is sure to stymie the recent
string of successes at the long-suffering La Cumbre school.

“This is not sound educational decision making,” lamented La
Cumbre teacher Laura Baker on Tuesday night. To Baker and her
colleagues, the merger — which was voted on at a whirlwind
Faculties Master Plan update meeting in late August — is a hasty
decision that would result in a logistical nightmare including
eighth-graders sharing bathrooms with first-graders, intolerable
noise levels in hallways, serious traffic issues for surrounding
neighborhoods, lunchtime chaos, and possible cutbacks in La
Cumbre’s esteemed and space-consuming science and technology

Adding further fuel to the opposition’s argument is the fact
that La Cumbre, after years of white flight syndrome and
diminishing enrollments, actually posted the only upswing in
secondary school enrollment in the entire district this year with
80 new students, a nearly 20 percent increase from last year. La
Cumbre’s new principal Jo Ann Caines — a longtime Santa Barbara
district administrative star — figures into this upswing in no
small way. Under her tenure, the school saw a marked improvement in
its Academic Performance Index (API) this year, with overall
performance results up, as well as improvements in the performance
of Latino and socioeconomically challenged students. The faculty
wants a chance to continue making improvements, but fears that the
full SBCA coming on campus will scare away prospective students and
put a cap on La Cumbre’s enrollment capacity. Or, as eighth-grader
Paul Mercurio stated Tuesday night, “It’s unfair that just as Ms.
Caines is turning our school around, you are trying to hold us

Boardmembers and district Superintendent Brian Sarvis were
unable to officially respond to the many public comments Tuesday
night, as the item was not on the agenda. Sarvis explained the
situation was still “very much up in the air,” but quickly added
that the bottom line remains that “La Cumbre is a campus with room
for well over 1,000 students, and it’s only at about half its
capacity right now.” According to Sarvis, La Cumbre has a total of
53 classrooms, with only about 30 of them occupied on a daily basis
by the junior high and grades 4-6 of the SBCA combined. Baker
disputes this number, claiming that La Cumbre actually has a total
of about 40 classrooms and that all of them are used at least a few
periods per day.

The board is not expected to make a final decision on the matter
for at least a few months, during which time its staff will look
into the various budget implications of the merger. While Sarvis
promised this week that many more chances for public input lie
ahead, it remains to be seen how a district with an elementary
budget that has little or no surplus cash, declining enrollments,
and a similarly cash-strapped high school budget could ever afford
the facility retrofitting that a joint La Cumbre and SBCA campus
would require.


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