Just hours after a worker painted over graffiti on a wall at Sonoma Charter School, someone came by in broad daylight and sprayed a large gang symbol across the facade, still wet with fresh paint.
For school director Paula Hunter, whose year has been fraught with graffiti, broken doors and a stolen computer, the new tag put her over the edge. She walked across the street into the neighborhood and began knocking on doors to ask if anyone had seen the culprit.
"Even just getting the neighbors who see something, getting them to make a call to the sheriff; they won't do it," Hunter said.
Sonoma Valley campuses this school year have been plagued by vandalism and other problems during non-school hours, costing schools time and money to patch the damage, said school officials and law enforcement officer.
In response, Sonoma County Sheriff's deputies have launched a crackdown, starting in January with a "no-tolerance policy" to loitering, said Sgt. Greg Stashyn.
"We're trying to take a pro-active stance so this criminal element doesn't take over," Stashyn said. "We're targeting folks who have no business on the school grounds, who aren't carrying footballs or soccer balls."
The policy led to eight arrests Saturday night at the El Verano School in Sonoma Valley. Deputies stopped two groups of young males, ages 15 to 18, who were hanging around the school late that night, Stashyn said.
Deputies found a knife and a small amount of marijuana. All were cited for misdemeanors and released to their parents, he said. Their cases will be reviewed by the District Attorney's office.
Deputies on weekend patrol duty pass through campuses several times each shift, paying close attention to El Verano School on Riverside Drive, Sonoma Charter School on Sonoma Highway near Agua Caliente Road West and the Flowery School on Sonoma Highway just north of Boyes Hot Springs, Stashyn said.
Deputies have responded to more than 40 reports of disturbances, burglary, suspicious vehicles and suspicious people at those three schools in just the past two months, sheriff's records show.<NO1><NO>
School and law enforcement officials were put on alert after two Agua Caliente teen-age boys were accused of raping a 14-year-old girl at the El Verano Elementary School campus after midnight Jan. 25, 2009.
The group had been drinking outside the school and the girl told deputies she was too intoxicated to resist the assault, detectives said. The boys, 15 and 16, were charged with felony sexual assault, according to sheriff's reports.
The assault came as difficult news to the neighbors around the school, which becomes a community park when school is not in session.
"We have kids here every day after school. Families are using the playground, soccer players on the field, basketball players are out there right now, they stay until they can't see," Mait?Iturri, the school principal, said this week. "It's very well used by the community."
Parents jumped into action and organized watch patrols, garden projects and campus clean-up days, Iturri said.
"I give all the parents my cell phone number. If they're out walking and they see something, they call me," Iturri said.
The financial impact of vandalism comes at an acute time for the Sonoma Valley School District, which employs seven maintenance workers for its 13 schools, said John Bartolome, the district business manager. Next school year, maintenance operations will be cut by at least $100,000, he said.