If the tooth fairy had to pay up for all the tooth-pulling that went on at the Santa Barbara School Board meeting this week, she would be looking for a low-interest loan right about now. For more than five hours Tuesday night, boardmembers-playing one person down due to Annette Cordero’s absence-struggled to decide the fate of a plan to merge the full student population of the Santa Barbara Community Academy elementary school onto the sparsely populated La Cumbre Junior High School campus. Thanks to Cordero’s missing vote, the usually five-member board repeatedly banged heads with tied votes. This continued until a late-hour closed-door maneuver by the district’s chief counsel Craig Price (pictured above) paved the way for a 3-1 approval of reuniting the Academy on La Cumbre’s Westside campus, perhaps as soon as this July.
The vote brought a jubilant cheer from the Academy camp while simultaneously spurring a disappointed sigh from the merger detractors, many of whom were La Cumbre faculty members. In what boardmember Bob No»l called a “tragic zero-sum game,” the evening pitted two of the district’s current success stories against one another, forcing boardmembers to find a compromise that would deliver on the two-year-old promise to reunite the Academy-which has been split since 2005, with kindergartners through third-graders on Ortega Street, and fourth- through sixth-graders at La Cumbre-without stifling the revival currently enjoyed by the long-suffering La Cumbre school.
While parents and faculty from the Academy turned out, promising to play nice if the merger passed, equally as many La Cumbre staffers cried foul about the plan and their lack of involvement in the process, pointing out shortcomings in the logistics of shared bathrooms, crowded hallways, and the social misgivings of having elementary and junior high kids on one campus. Further clouding the situation was a formidable resistance mounted by the Westside Neighborhood Watch Committee. Controversially invoking the name of Jake Boysel-the young cyclist killed after being struck by a car while pedaling to La Colina Junior High last September-committee members portrayed the introduction of new students and associated traffic as a harbinger of intersection gridlock and pedestrian safety issues.
However, in many ways the merger was a forgone conclusion. The board, citing the fact that La Cumbre can accommodate about 1,400 students but expects only 550 next year, voted at a facilities master plan update hearing last September to conditionally move the entire Academy to La Cumbre. This fact was repeatedly highlighted Tuesday night as boardmembers quarreled, not about the merger itself but rather about the process by which it would occur.
On one side, Kate Parker and No»l lobbied for a phased approach in which only one or two grades would move in the upcoming school year in order to iron out wrinkles in the plan’s design while also guarding against delays in the $400,000 renovation process. On the other side were Laura Malakoff, who favored an all-at-once merger, and board President Nancy Harter, who-
despite expressing support for a phased merger-was against the idea of additional flexibility in the merged facility’s actual layout. And then there was Superintendent Brian Sarvis, who became increasingly vocal in his support for an immediate merger with little deviation from the blueprints hatched by land-use consultants Pat Saley and Associates. In the end, it was Price, who-calling for a recess-dragged Sarvis, Harter, and two architects into a back room and came out moments later with a motion that won the night. Throwing a bone to all the boardmembers’ respective concerns, the Price plan calls for the relocation of the Academy to begin in July-“or as soon thereafter as technically possible”-pending a final round of input from the respective principals. To that end, the matter is scheduled to return in early July for a final sign-off on the blueprints of the specific design.