THE RETURN OF THE MUS K-8TH DISTRICT?

Is it time for the Montecito Union School District to become a kindergarten through eighth grade school district again? The recent apparent agreement for the Montecito Union School District to obtain several acres of land adjacent to the school by swapping it with the Montecito YMCA opens this question.

The general direction in public education nationally is toward decentralization. The charter school movement is one aspect of decentralization, as are easier transfers between schools and between school districts.

Implementing the additional grades model is difficult, perhaps requiring the approval of the Santa Barbara School Districts – a reason why this idea has faced previous opposition. In addition, many financial issues would be involved, another reason why it hasn’t received more support.

The basic aid status of the district guarantees it excellent funding, which has mostly been used to pay higher salaries to district employees. While the Montecito Union School District has some greater programs than other local public elementary school districts, the main difference between it and other local public elementary school districts is that Montecito Union teachers get considerably higher pay, tens of thousands of dollars each more.

So, the question of finances if the Montecito Union School District were to become a kindergarten through eighth grade school district would be vital. Secondary education programs are somewhat more expensive to operate per student than elementary programs, as a result of a more specialized curriculum.

There would be perhaps 150 students more at Montecito Union (or in the Montecito Union School District) if seventh- and eighth-graders were retained. This number might fluctuate from year to year depending on class size, but over time it is probably a reasonably accurate figure.

Would it make sense to attempt to bring the Cold Spring School District into the mix? Probably not, at least at first. It would be difficult enough to expand the Montecito Union School District to eighth grade. To attempt to bring another district in from the outset would compound issues.

Might other school districts on the South Coast be interested in exploring kindergarten through eighth grade options? Cold Spring is one possibility. The Goleta Union School District is another.

Over time, it appears that the Montecito Union School District may stabilize with about 500 students in kindergarten through sixth grade. While some have thought in the past that this number might be somewhat lower, enrollment in the district is not declining.

Therefore, if seventh- and eighth-graders were added, Montecito Union would become a district of about 650 students or so. This is where acquisition of the land adjacent to the school and the possible YMCA land swap come in. The existing Montecito Union site would be somewhat small for 650 students. But with the acquisition of nearby land, expansion becomes possible.

Clearly, the issue of the future of the Montecito Union School District – and, in particular, whether it retains seventh- and eighth-graders – is an issue that merits consideration by residents of the district, friends and families. There is already a committee exploring charter school options. Perhaps its charge could be expanded to investigate the process for the Montecito Union School District to become a kindergarten through eighth grade school district once more.