Report Says Conversion to 4-Year High Schools Could Cost $200,000 : Education: Simi Valley board tonight will hear financial analysis of controversial proposal.


A hotly debated plan to convert high schools to four-year campuses could cost the Simi Valley school district $200,000 annually, according to a report to be considered tonight.

School administrators concluded in a 13-page report under review by trustees that transferring ninth-grade students from junior highs to three high schools would require more books, more supplies and even more postage stamps.

The report is informational only, and no action is scheduled by the board until later this year.

The analysis does not detail the cost of converting Sequoia Junior High School to a magnet school, a state-of-the-art campus that would offer students everything from a television studio to computers at every desk.

Although the $200,000 cost is a small fraction of the district's annual budget, which runs about $75 million, opponents of the restructuring plan and proposed magnet school say it is too costly for a district that has struggled with budget deficits.

Trustees of the 25-campus Simi Valley Unified School District voted in June to convert the junior high school to the specialized high school and to turn Royal and Simi Valley high schools into four-year campuses.

But with room for just 1,200 students, Sequoia would be smaller than the other campuses, which each enroll about 1,800 students.

In addition to new supplies, the conversion also could mean more counselors and at least one additional administrator, according to Leslie Crunelle, director of secondary education for the school district.

"We fund schools differently based on whether they are elementary, junior high or high schools," she said. "We're recommending a change in the allocation."

Under the analysis under consideration tonight, converting Sequoia Junior High School into a high school would add more than $16 a student to the annual cost of teaching each ninth-grader in the district, the report states.

For example, Simi Valley administrators now budget $41.80 to instruct ninth-graders at each of the district's four junior high schools. But they would spend more than $58 to educate that same student when he or she is enrolled in a high school.

"When ninth-graders move to the high schools, there will have to be additional funds transferred to cover those costs," Crunelle said.

With nearly 1,450 eighth-graders in the Simi Valley public school system today, the extra $16 per student adds more than $23,000 to the district budget. But there are other, greater costs not yet accounted for.

"Depending on how the numbers shake out, we may need some additional counselors," Crunelle said. A director of activities would also be hired at about $50,000 a year if Sequoia attracts the maximum number of students.

Donna Prenta, a parent of four who sits on several committees studying the magnet school plan, is convinced the conversion to four-year high schools and the new magnet campus will cost much more than $200,000.

"They don't even know what the start-up costs are," Prenta said. "They haven't got a single bid and they've never done a cost analysis. If it does happen, it's going to be a catastrophe."

But school officials disagree. Judy Cannings, an administrator brought in to oversee the conversion, said most of the tools for a magnet school already are in place.

"We're not adding students," Cannings said. "The campus is already there, and the books and the desks are already in existence."

Cannings said the district would have a better idea of the precise costs of converting Sequoia to a magnet school after school officials determine which services to provide and how many students plan to attend.

Surveys have been sent to more than 7,000 households, she said. Results will be tabulated for trustees for discussion at an upcoming board meeting.

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