For Schools, Few Choices, Many Rules

<i> B.J. Korenstein is superintendent of the Oxnard School District</i>

Your May 31 editorial, “Keep School Off Farmland,” contains certain statements that misrepresent the actual facts regarding a project that is both reasonable and needed.

The Oxnard School District is in the business of educating children. We now have 14,700 students in 18 schools, all of which operate on a multitrack, year-round program. We are assured of the fact that, by the year 2000, student enrollment will exceed our capacity. For that reason, it is imperative that we begin construction of two schools immediately and plan for two additional ones by 2005.

We have examined every piece of vacant property in the city of Oxnard. Because a school site must be approved by the state of California, we have had representatives of the state tour the available sites on two occasions. In fact, these state representatives specifically rejected as unacceptable the two sites you mention in your editorial--the one located by California 1 and the property in the industrial park--thus effectively removing them from our consideration.

The 14-acre site we are considering for one new school is a sod farm. And it is not surrounded by agriculture. In fact, on one side is a residential community that has been in place for 20 years. If the ultimate decision is to construct the school on this site, it will be built adjacent to the residential community, not in the middle of the agricultural area.


The fact that a developer last year sought to build 3,000 homes in the area has no bearing on our consideration of the site for placement of a school. We are not in the development business and, in fact, we are not encouraging further residential expansion for some time because we must remain on a multitrack, year-round calendar merely to house students already in our district.

As you state, “schools and farms do coexist all over Ventura County, out of necessity,” and particularly so on the Oxnard plain, where all the land was farmland at one time. We share the community’s pride in these fertile fields and the recognition that the resources of the county’s billion-dollar farm industry must be considered in the construction of any facility.

However, our charge is to educate the children of this community and to do so we must have adequate schools in which to house them.

Your editorial touches on the debate relating to pesticides, herbicides and fumigants. Essentially, all schools and houses in Oxnard are on land with the potential for residual pesticide. There are no vacant parcels anywhere in Oxnard that were not previously farmed.


We could purchase land already developed, incur the expense of condemnation of homes and the ordeal and disruption that such action would inflict on those families, plus the expense of demolishing existing structures.

However, lingering contamination from pesticides used in an earlier era might still be there, in addition to possible contamination from the intervening industrial or commercial uses, and from the demolition of the structures themselves. All of that would render these sites potentially more costly to clean up for reuse as a school.

The health and well-being of our students and staff are our primary considerations in the selection of a school site. All real estate purchased by the district is surveyed for contamination, in compliance with state and federal regulations and standards. Materials and practices used in construction are also in full compliance with applicable standards and codes, including those intended to avoid recognized chemical risks to building occupants.

The reality is that we follow state and federal safety regulations to the letter. We search for everything listed in these regulations and, if found, implement appropriate mitigation measures.

The concerns you express in your editorial have been, and will continue to be, discussed at public hearings by the Oxnard School District. Your editorial states, “The Times urges the Oxnard School District to take another look at its criteria and at these other sites.” If you have constructive suggestions to add to our criteria and viable alternative sites that are acceptable to the state--keeping in mind that we need two new schools within five years and four new schools within 10 years--we would be happy to consider them.

However, your suggestion that we consider placing a new school in an industrial area is unacceptable. You would not make that same suggestion to Oak Park School District, or Las Virgenes School District or Conejo School District, and neither would you expect their parents to accept that for their children. The students and parents of the Oxnard School District deserve no less.