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Petaluma school districts consider consolidation

Published: Monday, November 18, 2013 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 14, 2013 at 9:15 a.m.

Not a lot of people may know, but Petaluma City Schools is really two school districts — Petaluma City Elementary and Petaluma Joint Union High School.

The districts share a common board of education, district administration, bargaining board and budget, but that may not be the case for long. A proposal to consolidate the two districts is in the very preliminary stage.

Steve Bolman, who serves as superintendent of both districts, emphasizes that the district is only just beginning to consider the proposal and is still trying to determine what the fiscal impact will be under the state's new Local Control Funding Formula, which dramatically changes the way schools are funded, giving more control to local school districts.

Funding was the underlying reason the two-district system was created in the first place. Essentially, it evolved because the district could receive more money from the state when seventh- and eighth-graders were part of the high school district than it would have — if all students, from kindergarten through high school, were in one joint district.

With the Local Control Funding Formula, the funding advantages of two districts may no longer be a factor.

“We're investigating,” Bolman said.

He said there are advantages to consolidation, primarily having to do with administrative savings. Currently, some administrative functions require separate actions, procedures and paperwork. In some cases, the school board must pass two resolutions for the same issue, increasing the administrative costs associated with the resolutions.

But while the consolidation could result in savings, Bolman said it is impossible to move forward with any kind of consolidation plans until it can be determined to what extent the district's budget will be impacted by the change to the Local Control Funding Formula.

The new school funding law took effect July 1, but many school districts, including Petaluma, are finding it complicated and waiting to commit to additional expenditures until they better understand how it all will work.

“We won't be doing anything for several months,” Bolman noted.

“We not only don't know how much we will be getting from the state next year,” he said. “We don't know yet even how much we will get this year.”

Petaluma City Schools Board President Troy Sanderson acknowledged that consolidation is “on the radar,” but added, “We are still in discovery. We don't (yet) know how it would affect us.”

The district expects to take up the matter in the spring.

(Contact John Jackson at johnie.jackson@arguscourier.com.)

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