OCEANSIDE — After hearing parents’ concerns over a suggested merger of two elementary schools over the last few weeks, the Oceanside Unified School District board unanimously voted against the proposal, deciding instead to move forward with rebuilding Reynolds Elementary and modernizing Surfside Academy.
Board President Stacy Begin immediately made the motion against merging schools at the start of a special meeting on Nov. 2 where the board was prepared to decide on two different potential merging plans.
If the board went forward with merging schools, they would have chosen between two options.
The first option would have moved Del Rio Elementary students to Libby Elementary, both of which are currently the smallest schools in the district. This option would then move all of Surfside’s student population to the Del Rio campus and enter Surfside’s current campus into asset management. This also included a rebuild of Reynolds Elementary.
The second option would have also modernized Surfside but would have also taken all of Reynolds’ traditional school programming and merged it with Del Rio, then it would have merged its two-way bilingual immersion program to Libby. The district would have closed Reynolds and entered it into asset management.
Those two options were presented to the board for consideration last night after previous meetings discussed what such a merge would look like, while also collecting community input. The overwhelming response was negative: parents did not want to see their community schools disappear.
The subject of merging schools came up following the district’s completion of its Long Range Facilities Master Plan, which examined all facilities and determined their needs. Two challenges identified in that plan were that the district has a number of facilities with fewer students than they were meant to support and that several buildings are in need of major repairs and modernization, Reynolds and Surfside among them.
The board then requested that staff present information on potential school consolidation to address both of those issues, which is how the two previously mentioned options were formed.
But rather than merge any schools, Begin proposed to rebuild Reynolds and modernize Surfside.
The district received more than 30 public comments from past meetings and over 100 pages of comments and numerous emails, the vast majority of which were opposed to consolidation. Begin said consolidating the aforementioned schools would be “detrimental” to the students there based on all of the community input.
“I heard you loud and clear,” Begin said at Tuesday’s meeting.
Board Vice President Eric Joyce and Board Clerk Raquel Alvarez had some concerns regarding the more than $50 million that the school would need to spend on rebuilding Reynolds, which will take between four and five years.
The two were particularly concerned with that cost potentially jumping up to $70 million over the next few years, and what spending that much money on one school would mean for all of the other identified needs at district facilities.
Associate Supt. Andrea Norman assured them that the district wouldn’t spend all $50 million immediately on rebuilding Reynolds and that it would be paid overtime, meanwhile, the district would set aside other funds to address its other facility needs.
Joyce went forward with supporting the motion to not consolidate and rebuild Reynolds, but he added that the board needs to focus on straightening out its budget moving forward.
“We should be intentional with our next steps,” Joyce said.
Alvarez noted she was opposed to school consolidation from the beginning and was pleased to see Surfside will get the attention it needs instead of remaining an afterthought in the district. Surfside’s modernization will not take as long as the Reynolds rebuild.
Trustee Eleanor Evans said Reynolds is in dire need of a rebuild.
“I think, quite frankly, it’s dilapidated,” Evans said. “It gives me deja vu of the schools I went to in Virginia. It’s sad because it is a learning environment and working environment, and it definitely affects morale.”
There were nearly 20 people signed up to give public comments at Tuesday’s meeting. Most of those people were surprised by the board’s move and switched up their comments against consolidation to thanking the board for its decision.
“Thank you for listening to us parents,” said Michele King. “The only thing is in the future if we could just as parents get more notice with this. We only had just a few weeks to absorb and process all this information, and that caused great panic for us.”