Ocean View School District sets deadline for task force proposals in face of declining enrollment
What comes next for the Ocean View School District?
Though district Board of Trustees President Patricia Singer announced in February that she wouldn’t agendize the closing of any campuses next school year, school and parent representatives continue worrying about the district’s declining enrollment.
OVSD Supt. Michael Conroy has created a 40-plus member superintendent’s task force to examine that issue. It consists of school site, community and union representatives, as well as principals from six different OVSD schools.
The task force has been meeting twice a month and held its third meeting on Wednesday night.
The goal is to come up with a range of options for the Board of Trustees to consider. A soft target date of Oct. 24 for recommendations to be made was established at Tuesday’s board meeting.
“My concern with just leaving it open-ended forever is that it is a very difficult conversation,” Singer said at Tuesday’s meeting. “If we don’t have some kind of timelines, we could be talking about this for the next three years. Let’s face it — it is a very passionate conversation, a very difficult conversation.”
Seven district staff members, including Conroy, also attend the meetings. They are facilitated by Dr. Joe Farley, a former Orange County superintendent.
“We’re there to provide support, listen to the conversations and the questions about information that might be requested so that we understand the context of the conversation and what’s being said,” Conroy said in an interview Friday. “Obviously, I can tell [the staff], ‘You don’t have to come, you can just watch it,’ but I think it’s more powerful when you’re in the room listening to really get the feeling of the meeting.”
The district’s enrollment has been declining for years. Ocean View lost 2,600 students over the past decade to its current enrollment of 6,809. Conroy has said that trend is expected to continue with birth rates dropping within district boundaries and residents’ median age increasing.
At the Feb. 14 school board meeting, Conroy introduced an idea to close Circle View, Village View and Golden View elementary schools and repurpose Spring View Middle School. However, that notion was paused after two community forums.
Robert Espinoza, who represents the district’s preschool and Circle View on the task force, remains heavily vested in the district. His wife, Crystal, is a special education teacher in the district at Spring View Middle School. He has one OVSD graduate who is currently a freshman at Marina High, and two other sons that are in kindergarten and preschool, respectively.
“We purchased our home in the Circle View tract specifically [to go to] Circle View,” he said, adding that the campus just east of Marina in Huntington Beach is one of the district’s GATE magnet programs.
But with Measure R bond money running out, closure was considered for Circle View instead of modernization. The district currently has Star View Elementary being modernized this year, with Mesa View Middle School to follow in 2024.
Village View, Golden View and Spring View — the other three schools that were potentially on the cutting block — also have not been modernized. Meanwhile, Espinoza said, College View was modernized despite having the lowest enrollment numbers in the district and no special programs like some of the other campuses.
“That’s a big contention in the community, how would you guys keep that school open and close other schools with higher enrollment and better performance?” he said.
Still, Espinoza said the district replaced the heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system system at Circle View during spring break, which he saw as a good sign that an effort is being made.
Espinoza said the first couple of superintendent’s task force meetings have been getting all the members up to speed with what is going on in the district.
“We’re not even close to getting into any options yet,” he said. “Right now, it’s still the really early stages.”
Keeley Pratt is another well-connected parent on the task force representing Village View Elementary, the campus two of her children attend.
She said the Oct. 24 timeline for reaching a recommendation for the Board of Trustees is important, because Dec. 1 is when the first interim budget reports are due. Pratt added that parents were concerned because, as school closures were first floated in February, schools haven’t had a lot of time to develop a marketing strategy to increase their enrollment in time for it to be reflected in the following year’s budget projections.
“This is pretty unprecedented, it seems, to have this large of a committee,” she said. “The fact that we’re all sort of accepting this date, I think that’s a positive step. Hopefully it is, and hopefully it’s a timely step as well. We don’t want to be free-falling forever. We have to have checkpoints along the way, to see what it means to be successful. What are we going for here?”
Pratt said there’s a wide range of knowledge level among the task force participants, but she’s relaxed her frustrations as she realizes that it’s important to take it slow and for everyone to have the same information at the same time.
If school boundaries are withdrawn or teachers get redistributed, school closures can affect every school in the district, she said.
“That movement is so surprising to people,” she said. “They thought, ‘It’s not my school so it’s not my problem,’ but it’s a district problem. It will impact every single student and every single staff member, not just teachers. We’re talking custodians, school office managers, clerks, all the way down the line.
“Hopefully people will tune into YouTube [video of the district’s May 24 task force meeting] and listen to this stuff, or even just go onto the task force website [ovsd.org/schoolstaskforce], download the data and look at the numbers. It’s incredibly important and also a real testament to — and trial of — the value of public education. It’s really unusual to have this type of data at our fingertips all at once, and I hope people capitalize on it. Can we optimize the money and strengthen the quality of education? Is there something outside of the box that we could be doing?”
Pratt said three things have to happen to make the task force worthwhile. It has to come to a consensus, the Board of Trustees has to support the consensus with action, and the public has to believe in this plan and believe in public education.
“All of this will be for naught if those three things can’t happen,” she said. “To be determined, right?”
Espinoza said he’s unsure how things will play out, but he added that no matter what decision is made, people will likely be upset.
“We haven’t done anything,” he said. “The only real thing we’ve done is remodel lower-performing schools in the hope that will increase enrollment, and that has been a complete failure. I get the intention. It’s a great intention ... but should we really remodel a lower-performing school when we may need to close it because of these 10-year trends?
“Now you’re bringing us into this task force to make these decisions, but the decisions have kind of already been made. I mean, it’s been 10 years. You’re giving me a bucket on the Titanic.”
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