UPDATE: Dozens rally for a revote against consolidation

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, April 8, 2021

Protesters in favor of a revote take to downtown Sebastopol. (Photo by Camille Escovedo)

Roughly 50 members of the West Sonoma County Union High School District community assembled in front of the district office in Sebastopol on April 8 at 3 p.m. for a “United Rally to Revote” demonstration, urging for the board of trustees to revote against consolidating Analy and El Molino high schools.

A small group of participants first met in an Analy parking lot before marching to the district office where most of the parents, alumni, students and younger school-age gathered. The crowd was mostly from the El Molino community, according to Tasha Mattison, one of the recall effort committee leaders trying to unseat the three trustees who voted to proceed with a plan to consolidate.

Altogether, the dozens of participants marched from the district office on Johnson Street past the nearby Laguna High School and poured onto the sidewalk headed towards downtown on North Main Street. Signs bore messages like “Revote now,” “Recall now,” “Wrong time, wrong plan,” and “Save El Molino,” while a younger child carried a sign that said “El Molino Class of 2028.”

The demonstrators flowed through the shopping corridor and chanted “Reconsider, revote!” eventually reaching the intersection of North Main Street and Bodega Avenue, where passing drivers honked in recognition.

The protesters split up, some remaining in front of the Westamerica Bank while others continued to the Sebastopol Plaza. Numerous cyclists from the El Molino Mountain Bike Team flew by, some weaving around and through the plaza back out onto the street.

Also in attendance was Jeanne Broome, the board’s El Molino student representative and a senior, who said many students she’s talked to will leave the district. Broome said students ask her a lot of questions because many are busy and exhausted from Zoom, “so I completely understand if they don’t want to come on a three-hour Zoom to speak for two minutes.”

Broome said she will return to El Molino this Monday for the end of her senior year and an emotional and reflective time for staff and students.

“I’m really grateful to be able to go back because I think if nothing else, it might provide a little bit of closure if we don’t end up getting the revote that we want,” she said.

She continued, “But also I think it will provide a space for students to communicate in a way that they haven’t on these issues and maybe even come up with some new ideas on consolidation if it happens and how to prevent it, if that’s what they want to do. I think it’ll be a productive time.”

From the plaza, the demonstration rolled back towards North Main Street and fanned out on its sidewalk, a string of participants later stationing themselves on the sidewalk closest to Community First Credit Union.

El Molino and west county community speak out

Naomi Huffstutter of Guerneville, a parent of twin eighth-graders, said far west county residents of the El Molino area contribute most of the district’s tax revenue but now face longer commutes to the Sebastopol school.

Though they are not final numbers, Sonoma West Times & News received WSCUHSD’s estimated revenue by boundary for the 2020-21 fiscal year from Dawn Calahan,

manager of the property tax accounting division of the county’s Auditor-Controller Treasurer-Tax Collector’s Office.

The document, dated Nov. 24, 2020, estimates that the El Molino boundary area contributes 64.69% of the district’s Measure B parcel tax, while the Analy boundary area is estimated to provide 31.07% of the revenue.

“It’s not that we don’t love Sebastopol, but it’s very confusing that if we really do need to push these children together in one school, why perhaps Sebastopol students couldn’t come our way, especially we serve all the way to Fort Ross and Jenner, far far west,” Huffstutter said.

A parent said managing life in the pandemic and their children’s education has been excruciating “because we’re also working from home, we’re also caring for our kids,” and the kids’ mental health is at some risk. “A lot of these kids are socially stuck in last March in 2020 and they’re really struggling to feel like they’re supported,” she said.

While she said her daughter could get from Forestville to Analy alright, she said she worried about families living further west, “This is a very very large community and there’s a lot of pride and I think it’s vital that the school board hear it and really really stand for the entire group they represent.”

Ninth-grader Bree Tyler said she had yet to attend El Molino in person and greatly preferred a small school environment. Tyler said her mom is now trying to enroll her at Santa Rosa High School for the fall with no luck so far.

She said she’d eventually accept the move to Analy because her friends would be there, too, but said that the consolidation decision upset her.

“Eventually I’ll just get over the fact that my school didn’t matter to the board at all, I’ll get over the fact they just chucked my school aside and put me in this bigger school,” Tyler said, “But until then, I’m probably not going down without a fight.”

The question of pandemic funds

A number of attendees said the district could use incoming pandemic-related state and federal funding to maintain separate campuses in at least the immediate term.

However, according to Chief Business Official Jeff Ogston in an email early Thursday morning, funds from the state AB86 grants, the American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, are restricted and intended to address learning loss over the past year and COVID-19-related impacts on procedures, like testing and cleaning.

Ogston delivered a presentation on the incoming state and federal funding and their allowable uses at the March 30 board meeting.

The AB86 grants are to create a learning recovery program that provides additional instruction, social and emotional supports and offers meals for largely at-risk and prioritized student groups, like students eligible for free and reduced-cost meals, homeless students, foster youth, English Learners and more, he said.

Per his presentation, AB86 funds can also be used for providing more instructional learning time beyond what’s required, like summer school and after-school programs, addressing learning gaps with tutoring, addressing learning barriers by offering trauma-related programs, meal access, health services and counseling, and staff training.

Other allowable uses include staff training, supporting credit-deficient students, academic services like benchmark assessments and getting students access to high-speed internet and technology through “community learning hubs,” according to Ogston.

Meanwhile, Ogston presented federal funding that allows uses like coordinating COVID-19 responses, training staff on sanitation and serving the particular needs of homeless students, English learners, foster youth, students with disabilities, students with low income and racial and ethnic minority youth.

Other uses allow for buying sanitation supplies, technology for students, facility maintenance and upgrades for air quality and ventilation and more, in addition to activities allowed by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, the Adult Education and Family Literacy Act and the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act of 2006.

Ogston said that the state’s allowable uses are stated very specifically and require the board to adopt a spending plan.

“Admittedly, while the federal money has more allowable uses and could be considered more flexible, the idea and intent behind the money remains the same, and because of the longer spending deadlines, provides the district the opportunity to create a student support plan that could last multiple years instead of just one,” he said.

In an April 7 interview, Superintendent Toni Beal said the allowable uses for addressing COVID-19-related expenses and learning loss do not cover maintaining El Molino at the Forestville campus.

Protesters in front the WSCUHSD office. (Photo by Camille Escovido)

Some of the protesters took their argument to Sebastopol’s famous crossroads. (Photo by Amber Rose)

Protest at the crossroads of Hwy. 116 and 12. (Photo by Amber Rose)

Showin’ that El Mo pride. (Photo by Nicole Huffstutter)

Protesters also made a stand at the downtown plaza. Here a future would-be El Molino student. (Photo by Nicole Huffstutter)

Protesting in front of the district office. (Photo by Nicole Huffstutter)

Protesting in front of the district office. (Photo by Nicole Huffstutter)

Wrong time, wrong plan. (Photo by Nicole Holley King)

Another vote for revote. (Photo by Nicole Holley King)

Demonstrating in the downtown plaza. (Photo by Ceylon Crow)

Sonoma West reporter Camille Escovedo talks with El Mo supporters. (Photo by Ceylon Crow)

The event ended as protesters congregated around a Save El Mo truck on Hwy. 116 (Photo by Ceylon Crow)

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com