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On June 13, the Rincon Valley Union School District’s board of trustees approved the purchase of the Oak Park Swim Club property as a future school site. For three months, we researched the constantly changing information district officials provided to justify the purchase of this property. Our position is that if there was an honest justification for purchasing this land for a new school:

— The district would have followed Brown Act regulations between February and May 2016 as it was approving contracts and signing the purchase agreement in closed session. The district is required to follow specific agenda rules for property purchases, which it didn’t follow. The district also is also required to announce decisions made in closed session, except for price and terms of the contract. However, according to the minutes, the board was continuously coming out of closed session claiming it had made no decision.

— The district would have been transparent with the public about the need for a potential new elementary school prior to signing a contract for raw land. It would have developed a facilities master plan and included public input. It would have also included third-party demographic studies confirming projected enrollment growth. The district wouldn’t have pursued this purchase based on a “Eureka moment,” as Superintendent Tony Roehrick called it during a private meeting.

— The district would have been fully transparent during the entire process, with visible postings about the purchase for neighbors and commuters rather than posting information far away from traffic and only notifying a handful of neighbors.

— The district’s reasons for the purchase of this property would never have changed. Roehrick said, during a private meeting, that the district had been looking for property to move the district office and the decision to close Whited Elementary School “jumped into the story.” After residents challenged this, because we are still paying off a bond to renovate Whited, the district backpedaled, hired a new attorney and gave a new reason for the purchase as needing to land bank it for 10-20 years.

— The funding source to purchase this property would never have changed. A March 14 memo stated the funds were coming from bond reimbursements. On May 9, it changed to supplemental funds from transfer students.

In a Close to Home column by district officials published on May 31 (“RV district land purchase would be for land banking — for future”), those funds were called “one-time funding from the state.” This is misleading as these are discretionary annual funds from the state, which help replace property tax revenue related to educating out-of-district transfer students. It was the Board of Trustees that decided to put this money into a one-time fund to purchase this property.

We showed that about 700 transfer students are masking a decline in Rincon Valley resident enrollment. With declining enrollment in all of Sonoma County, it concerns us that the Rincon Valley Union School District is increasing its revenue by poaching students from neighboring school districts. This concern has been echoed by staff in those districts losing students. However, during the June 13 meeting, we were unfairly portrayed as being callous to students from poorer districts.

That is not and has not ever been our position. Our position has been genuine concern that the wealthier Rincon Valley district is taking funding from less wealthy districts.

We canvassed thousands of homes in the district and found overwhelming disapproval of this project. Rincon Valley residents voiced opposition to spending millions of tax dollars for this raw land purchase, based on an unsubstantiated need and a location with significant issues.

A draft demographic study was delivered to the school district. If it justified the district’s projected enrollment growth, we are confident it would have been presented on June 13. It was not presented.

Throughout this process we have asked for truth and transparency. We feel we have received neither.

Karen Sanders is a retired administrator for Sonoma State University. Chaney Delaire is former director of Burbank Housing Development. Both are residents of the Rincon Valley Union School District.

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