Shafter teachers wary of plan to unify school districts

SHAFTER, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) The Richland School District Board of Trustees met for the first time since the release of a feasibility study on the issue of unifying Richland School District with Shafter High School.

Several teachers from Shafter High addressed the board.

"If it ain't broke, then why fix it?" asked Shafter High teacher Steve Garza.

Richland is currently studying the possibility of "absorbing" Shafter High School from the Kern High School District and having it unify with Richland to form a new K-12 grade school district.

The recently released feasibility study paid for by Richland concludes that the unification effort meets all state legal criteria to proceed with the issue.

The study claims students in Shafter stand to benefit academically from unification. But, not everyone agrees.

Some question if a new unified district would have the same resources available as students at Shafter High have under the Kern High School District.

Others claim the funding for a new unified district would be risky.

"I think the study is too optimistic in terms of the funding source," said Pablo Reyes, a teacher at Shafter High.

And, yet others claim the process underway to unify the districts is already having a negative impact at Shafter High.

"There are a lot of teachers that are leaving Shafter High because of this, " said Garza.

A straw poll taken at Shafter High resulted in 33 teachers opposing unification, five in favor and nine undecided. Among the classified staff, 31 opposed unification, four in favor and one was undecided.

Teachers in Richland School District voted on March 9 to also oppose unification.

Adding to the mix is a community group called Citizens for United Shafter Schools.

The group's aim is to promote the unification effort. But, confusion has arisen as some claim the group appears to be part of the Richland School District, with flyers sporting the logo of Richland and advertising community meetings to discuss the feasibility study.

That prompted Richland School Board President Tony Aguirre to issue a notice to the media, stating that any such meetings are not sponsored or authorized by the Richland board.

"The Richland board has not taken up the matter of the feasibility study and does not endorse or authorize the use of the feasibility study until such time as it has been reviewed and approved by the RSD board," wrote Aguirre.

The Richland board did not publicly address comments made by Shafter High School teachers at Monday's meeting.

"I think their concerns are very valuable and informed us in many ways that we were not really looking at. It helps us in studying the feasibility report," said Richland School Board member Deanna Rodriguez Root.

Richland will hold a special board meeting to discuss solely the feasibility study. It will be held 6 p.m. April 29.