Community Board: Explore district consolidation

Kristen Damm works on a thinking map with her second grade class last year.

It is well past the appropriate time for a serious, outside, unbiased study on the potential for school district consolidation in San Benito County.
Most notably, local leaders should closely examine the possibility of merging the Hollister School District and San Benito High School District into one unified organization. Such a move has potential to cut significant costs in administration—likely six or seven figures—and streamline operational efficiencies and consistencies in local education while putting more money back into classrooms.
It’s not that the subject hasn’t come up. Since 2009 under direction from former County Superintendent Mike Sanchez, the Committee on School District Organization reconvened after a long hiatus with the goal of examining mergers, dissolutions and annexations. It was in light of expectations for residential growth at the time, and those expectations have arisen again with thousands of housing applications in the works.
Reconvening the committee sounded nice at the time, but in reality it has become an annual rubber stamp convention with no real intention to dive into this complex, politically challenging issue. In essence, the committee has kept the consolidation discussion on a back burner that no one was willing to touch.
With the arrival of San Benito High School District Superintendent John Perales, fortunately, the discussion has cropped up again. Perales told reporter Katie Helland in an interview that he strongly supports the idea to study district consolidation. He cited the potential cost and efficiency benefits, but also cautioned that community leaders would have a lot of work ahead.
Political and small-town challenges have often stood in the way of this direction, which seems to make a lot of sense for the Hollister and San Benito districts that operate with their own costly superintendents and other members of administrative staffs in a largely homologous geographic and demographic area. Standing as a roadblock here has been one of this community’s biggest deterrents to progress–the notion that just about every organization in town has a penchant to protect its own turf and agenda while acting in isolation from the larger community. Self-interests all too often take precedent in San Benito County.
Local school districts, and San Benito High School is certainly no exception, often follow the same mold. Even at the Hollister School District, which has been relatively open to broader community efforts such as the gang task force—SBHS officials have passed on it for no good reason—the challenges are evident. Superintendent Gary McIntire underlined how local officials would have to examine a bevy of complicated issues.
It’s a good thing McIntire also said he would do whatever is best for taxpayers and students. And it’s a good thing neither McIntire nor Perales appear ready to stick their heads in the sand and let another string of years pass by with little to no progress on the consolidation issue.

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