A new group of Marin citizens set out to potentially dislodge the heavy, entrenched – and some say redundant – public school system in the county.
The group, called Better Together for Public Education, focuses on the 10 K-8 districts in southern and western Marin that feed into the Tamalpais Union High School district.
“As of July 1, we will have 17 school districts to serve 33,000 students – which seems excessive for anyone looking at this,” said group leader Sheri Mowbray, former administrator of the Larkspur-Corte Madera school district.
In addition to Mowbray, members include nine other current and former school board and city council representatives and a school administrator.
“The goal is to provide the best school education for our children,” said Sloan Bailey, committee member, former city councilor of Corte Madera. “The larger concept is to try to save money and avoid unnecessary administration and bureaucracy. “
Bailey said the group is not obsessed with a specific outcome. He and other members just have the desire to explore the possibilities and collect data. At least two Marin County civil grand jury reports in 2012 and 2004 recommended the issue be resolved – but after decades, it’s still only a topic of discussion, Bailey said.
“The worst enemy of this subject is inertia,” he said.
The 10 so-called “feed” K-8 districts in southern Marin which channel elementary and secondary students to the five high schools in the Tamalpais Union High School district are: Larkspur-Corte Madera, Kentfield, Mill Valley, Reed Union, Sausalito Marin City, Lagunitas, Ross, Nicasio, Bolinas-Stinson and Ross Valley.
“These 10 districts include 15,000 of Marin’s 33,000 public education students,” Mowbray said. “It’s almost half of Marin’s public education system.”
She said she has been pondering this issue for at least 15 years. Reducing costs is one of the many obvious benefits, she said.
“There is incredible duplication,” Mowbray said. “In this feeder group in Tam district, there are 10 budgets, 10 LCAPs (academic allocation plans), 10 school boards, 10 curricula that need to be developed. The same is done over and over again by people with the same needs. “
In addition to streamlining finances and procedures, Mowbray said she believes bringing districts together might provide opportunities for specialized university programs that might be too expensive for smaller districts. These could include, for example, a primary school in dual Spanish-English immersion or a specialized technology program.
“Maybe the students are absent because the districts are so small,” she said. “I wonder about this.”
Mowbray, who also served on the Tamalpais Union High School District board of trustees, said the move could also ease the transition for middle school students in the area to high school.
“Because we have 10 K-8 districts that feed into the Tam High School district alone, it creates a lot of disconnect for students who came from 10 different school programs,” she said.
Despite their energy and good intentions, the Better Together group, which Mowbray says has met weekly since March, hit a bureaucratic wall in its first investigation last month when it approached the Marin County committee on organization of school districts.
Their request for committee support was not made because such proposals must first go through a public vetting process before reaching the county, said Terena Mares, deputy superintendent of Marin schools and staff assistant at Le Marin. county committee.
“We don’t have an opinion on it,” Mares said. “These are decisions made locally. “
According to state law, “the path to reorganizing the school district boundaries must be done by petition,” Mares said. “And the code is very prescriptive as to what that looks like.”
Once the prescribed number of voter signatures is collected, the matter is presented to the Marin County Superintendent of Schools. The county superintendent then checks through the county registrar to see if the signatures are valid, Mares said.
Once verified, the petition could then be forwarded to the Marin County Committee on School District Organization, which would schedule public hearings on the matter.
“They must meet the nine conditions set out by the state as to what constitutes a licensed district organization,” Mares said. “Even if the nine conditions are met, the county committee can say yes, but it can also say no.”
In order for the nine conditions to be met, the Southern Marin group would first have to carry out a series of studies. These include a California Environmental Quality Act report, a study on student transportation, staff pay schedules, facility obligations, and package taxes.
“It’s often a very expensive business to do all of these reports and analyzes,” said Mares. After the public hearings, the matter would be referred to a state council and then to voters on a ballot measure.
“It’s a two to three year process, at a minimum,” Mares said. “I’ve seen school districts take 10 years to get there. “
Mowbray said committee members realize that “it is a very steep hill” and that there are fierce loyalties and strong interests in local control among the various school communities in Marin.
“This is a political and very controversial hot potato – and we understand that,” she said.
However, the group is not discouraged. Now, given their county marching orders, Better Together will strategize over the summer and then launch outreach activities with local school boards in the fall, she said.
The group can also form a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit to raise funds for the studies that will be needed.
“The way it’s structured, it can take many years, but if you don’t start now, when are you going to start? Mowbray said. “My answer to ‘why now? is “why not now”? “