Eastvale – When the area of “Eastvale” first wanted to gain local control and map out what their destiny was, they began the “incorporation process.” Now with the many changes and growth in our area with over 60,000 residents, should the City of Eastvale consider developing their own school district as 15,000 of these residents are currently students? The idea of Eastvale becoming its own school district is one worthy of further investigation on the ramifications and the actual process.
So let’s examine the facts: The Corona-Norco School District (CNUSD) currently consists of thirty-one elementary schools, eight intermediate/middle schools, five comprehensive high schools, a middle college high school and three alternative schools. With the district serving over 53,000 students in the communities of Corona, Norco and Eastvale, CNUSD is the largest school district in Riverside County. Of the over 53,000 students in the district, 15,000 of them are Eastvale students.
Eastvale residents already pay a large amount of property taxes, special assessment taxes, a bond tax (Measure U), and also are asked to pay an additional $299m bond, on top of the $250 million general obligation Measure U Bond passed by voters in 2006.
“It was a huge process (to incorporate the city), but I believe it was worth the hundreds of hours of work,” said former Councilman Jeff DeGrandpre, who helped spearhead the process of the team who brought the decision to a vote. “It was tons of work, but now we have local control. We are right where we wanted to be as a community.”
Many smaller school districts have broken away from larger school districts for reasons from lack of accountability to simply a desire to run their own system. Walnut Valley Unified School District has a student population of 15,500 and became their own school district in the 1970’s when the area was in its infancy. Duarte Unified School District is a small district that serves about 4,700 students from the areas of Duarte, Bradbury, and the Maxwell Park area. Baldwin Park Unified has over 15,000 students and broke away from Covina Unified before the 1950’s. All of these school districts were part of larger areas that became smaller school districts and grew.
“We would support such a move if it benefitted our community,” said a group of parents at Clara Barton Elementary. “Especially if we have to pay for another bond. Our last bond, Measure U, we pay taxes on but only received 17% of that money.” Another parent felt they didn’t have enough control of the district and felt it’s because it’s too large. They all requested to remain anonymous because they’ve never researched the idea. “I never realized it was possible,” she said.
If Eastvale were to explore the possibility of separating from CNUSD and becoming its own individual school district, the California Department of Education requires a certain process to be followed. According to the California Department of Education District Organization Handbook- July 2010, this type of reorganization would seek to form one new school district of the same kind from parts of one existing school district of that same kind.
This type of reorganization is more commonly referred to as Unification. Although the exact method of Unification is based on a variety of factors, the first step in this process is a petition. This petition would then be presented to the County Superintendent of Schools and he/she would have 30 days to determine the legal sufficiency of the petition. If the petition is found to be legally sufficient, it is then sent to the County Committee on School District Organization and the State Board. A public hearing would then need to be held within 60 days to advise the public of the petition. After the hearing is held and within 120 days, the petition would need to be reviewed to see if it meets Section 35753 of the Educational Code.
These conditions are as follows: (a) The reorganized districts will be adequate in terms of number of pupils enrolled. (b) The districts are each organized on the basis of a substantial community identity. (c) The proposal will result in an equitable division of property and facilities of the original district or districts. (d) The reorganization of the districts will preserve each affected district’s ability to educate students in an integrated environment and will not promote racial or ethnic discrimination or segregation. (e) Any increase in costs to the state as a result of the proposed reorganization will be insignificant and otherwise incidental to the reorganization. (f) The proposed reorganization will continue to promote sound education performance and will not significantly disrupt the educational programs in the districts affected by the proposed reorganization. (g) Any increase in school facilities costs as a result of the proposed reorganization will be insignificant and otherwise incidental to the reorganization. (h) The proposed reorganization is primarily designed for purposes other than to significantly increase property values. (i) The proposed reorganization will continue to promote sound fiscal management and not cause a substantial negative effect on the fiscal status of the proposed district or any existing district affected by the proposed reorganization. (j) Any other criteria as the board may, by regulation, prescribe.
To maintain neutrality, the County Office of Education would most likely hire an independent consultant trained in evaluating this type of criteria. If the independent consultant does find the petition to be in compliance with EC35753, it is then passed on to the State Board of Education and they will determine if it is approved or sent to an election within the area affected. In most cases, this becomes a major obstacle, as a California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) would need to be done, which can be expensive.
According to a source from the Department of Education, this is where most of these petitions “die”, mainly due to the large expense of the CEQA. This step often takes a few years due to the state pipeline and the Environmental Impact Study. If the petition makes it through all of these steps and wins in an election of the area affected by the Unification, then a new school district would be formed.
While there are many pros and cons to becoming our own school district, any action to do so would most likely come at a large expense, be extremely controversial as well as political, and would need to be thoroughly researched to truly understand the greater impact on the students and the communities involved.
“It took us 3.5 years to get the city incorporation to the ballot,” the former councilman said. “It’s definitely worth looking into, but a tough road because CNUSD is highly regarded within the state.”
(Michael Armijo contributed to this story.)