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“My hope is that every single high school eventually has lights.”

That was former Santa Rosa City School Board member Noreen Carvolth when the board voted 5-2 to approve the installation of field lighting at Maria Carrillo High School, leaving Piner as the only high school in the district without athletic lights.

The year? 2007.

Eight years later, Piner is still in the dark.

Every other school in Sonoma County’s largest school district has lights. Every other school in the Sonoma County League has lights. Every other school in the North Bay League has lights.

Piner? The Prospectors play their home football games on Saturday afternoons. When the NBL voted to move boys soccer to the winter, the SCL stayed put. When would Piner play or practice without field lighting?

Prospector boosters have lost out on years of gate and concession revenues from night games and the attendant school spirit that comes with playing under the lights.

Long a project of the mighty few, the campaign to raise the funds needed to purchase and install both lights and a new public address system at the Fulton Road campus has gained new life. The board voted in September to issue a request for proposals to bid the project. Those will be issued by month’s end and should be returned by mid-December, according to Steve Eichman, assistant superintendent of the district.

And when they come back, the Piner folks will have a firm number, a real target for their fundraising.

While helpful to have a goal, it also sheds light on another problem.

School board policy requires lighting projects to be funded privately. Every other school has ginned up the money on their own: Elsie Allen in 2001, Santa Rosa in 2005, Montgomery in 2006 and Carrillo in 2008. But the economy, and school populations, have undergone a pretty major shift since then.

At least two schools took out bank loans to pay for lights. Others, like Carrillo, borrowed money from the district with a long-term payback plan.

But Jim Lanz, a 1976 Piner graduate, who has done yeoman’s work with the Piner High Hall of Fame committee in getting neighborhood support for the project as well as spearheading countless dinners, crab feeds and fundraisers over the years, said Piner needs help. The committee has done the heavy lifting on fundraising so far — they paid the nearly $63,000 bill for the environmental impact report in 2011.

But Lanz said he’s seen a total project estimate of $440,000. That’s a lot of crab.

A recently-launched GoFundMe campaign had $3,285 of the $271,000 goal as of Friday afternoon. And backers don’t truly know what they are aiming for — the EIR is now four years old.

But it’s here that Lanz asks a good question. And he’s the guy — because of his years of fundraising and convincing and campaigning — who has the credibility to ask it: When is $1 raised not equal to another $1 raised?

Carrillo, the last school approved for both lights and a district loan to fund them, had 1,570 students last year, according to state records. Nineteen percent of them are considered poor by federal standards. Across town at Piner, 1,053 students were enrolled last year — up from a low of 928 in 2012-13 — and more than 60 percent of those students meet the federal definition of poor.

To Lanz’s figuring, requiring Piner to raise $400,000 for lights is not the same thing as requiring Maria Carrillo to do it. And that’s not a dig on Carrillo, just what Lanz sees as reality.

“It’s an equity issue,” he said. “You look at the socio-economic numbers — I understand them, believe me — it puts some things out of the reach of sanity.”

But what’s the school board to do? They had a deal with four other campuses. Do they change the rules midstream?

That would be a hard sell — especially as the district is only just now emerging from years of deep and painful budget cuts that slashed everything from days in the school year to library services.

Still, board president Donna Jeye said the board fully supports the lights project and is “working to make that happen as quickly as possible.”

A district-backed loan seems the likeliest of options.

But a loan needs to be paid back. And remember that GoFundMe campaign? At $3,000, it’s got a ways to go.

“Piner deserves lights just like everybody else has lights,” board trustee Bill Carle said. “I don’t think there is any question that the district is in better shape financially, but by the same token, there is a lot of stuff that has been put off to the side for a long time.”

That said, even when there are many competing interests for the same dollar, equity is a bit of a magic word in education circles.

“When you are dealing with parity issues, those get rolled up to the top pretty quickly,” Carle said.

But ask any Piner backer and they’ll tell you there is a difference between deserving and delivering.

A devoted crew, mostly alumni, have been delivering funds in small chunks for years. They are deserving of a little more.

Getting there a spaghetti feed at a time? That’s a tall order, said Randy Nunes, 1971 Piner grad and vice president of the Piner Hall of Fame.

“We are in our 10th year of fundraising for lights,” he said.

There’s no shame in saying Piner could use a sugar daddy or mama right about now.

And the timing, for all of their waiting, seems serendipitous.

Piner High School will celebrate its 50th anniversary next fall. Some lights in the night sky might set just the right tone for their celebration.

Fiat lux, Piner.

You can reach staff columnist Kerry Benefield at 526-8671 or kerry.benefield@pressdemocrat.com, on Twitter @benefield and on Instagram at kerry.benefield. Podcast: “Overtime with Kerry Benefield” on iTunes.

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