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Committee recommends surplussing Summit

Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
The Ojai Unified School District 7-11 Committee on Summit School voted to recommend to the school board that it deem the entirety of the 108-year-old school in Upper Ojai to be surplus property. The committee met for its third meeting on April 10.
Summit School was temporarily closed by the school board for the 2018-19 school year in June and the board voted to temporarily close it for 2019-20 at its January meeting. It voted in December to create a 7-11 Committee, which is a required step by the state Education Code before a public school property can be leased or sold.
The vote was 7 to 1 in favor of the motion, with committee members Bob Daddi, Christina Mercer McGinley and Jeanette Espinoza abstaining. Louise Oseguera was the lone no vote.
The committee came to this conclusion after listening to a variety of presentations on potential uses for the site, and why the property should not be surplused. 
Currently, 104 students attend the Rock, Tree, Sky program at Summit School. It is an educational vendor, run by former OUSD science teacher Jim Bailey, that provides supplemental educational programs for home-schooled children enrolled in area charter schools. OUSD is licensing the school to Rock Tree Sky for $16,000 a year. Bailey provided information for the March 27 7-11 Committee meeting that homeschool charter schools provide families with annual enrichment funding between $2,600 and $3,000 and that if a family would like to access more time at Rock Tree Sky than this allows, they are asked to cover the rest out-of-pocket. Information in the meeting agenda packet stated that families are also offered financial aid to cover the difference.
Bailey said he did not think it would be ideal to have a shared use at Summit School, given that Rock Tree Sky is using all the space available to it at this time.
Committee Chairman Trevor Quirk asked Steve Offerman, assistant to county Supervisor Steve Bennett, to attend the meeting and speak on the process of the county taking over the property and the mechanism for passing a parcel tax to create a possible community center at the school. 
A two-thirds vote of registered voters in the area would be required to approve the tax. “The tax would be roughly $150 per parcel per year,” Offerman said. “That would cover the acquisition and some limited maintenance.”
At this point, someone in the Upper Ojai community would be able to convert the property into potentially a facility like the Oak View Park and Resource Center, which Barbara Kennedy spoke about next. 
Kennedy started and runs the Park and Resource Center in Oak View. The facility is used for extended education, a library, various 12-step programs, Boys and Girls Club, Ojai Valley Little League and more. 
Kennedy said the Oak View property was deemed surplus by a committee similar to the OUSD’s current 7-11 Committee. “We went to the school district and had stacks of signatures of people wanting to save the property for the community,” Kennedy said. “Many, many nights at school board meetings trying to convince them to give us a chance.”
When the property was sold to the county, there was an agreement with Ventura Unified School District that it could not become a school since VUSD did not want a school competing with Sunset Elementary. Parent of former Summit students, Thea Wilcox of Upper Ojai, urged the committee not to declare Summit surplus property. The site does not have to be deemed surplus to become a free and public charter school, Wilcox said, quoting a charter consultant from the California Department of Education. 
Wilcox and other community members have been advocating for a magnet school with a themed focus of study, such as environmental science and a foreign language-acquisition program, at Summit, within the OUSD. However, she said she was discouraged by the board’s lack of action after attending school board meetings and speaking with the superintendent and school board members over the last 10 months since the school was temporarily shuttered. She said that, as a last resort, she pivoted to the idea of forming a K-8 charter school, realizing many parents would like to see an alternative to Matilija Junior High School. A charter school is a free, public school that operates independently from the school district.
Former parent of Summit School students, Marianne Ratcliff, said the Upper Ojai Neighborhood Council, at its July meeting, voted unanimously for a public school to be reopened at Summit School.
If the district were to say no to approving a charter, Wilcox and any group trying to get a charter approved could take the documents to the county or even state level. “As our public school enrollment is declining, the quality of OUSD education is also declining,” Wilcox said. “We need to maintain our school population and create a more successful public school system in Ojai.”
At its next meeting April 24, at 5:30 p.m., the committee will discuss and come up with a list of potential uses for the school, now that it has decided to recommend it to the school board as surplus. It will hold a public hearing so community members can provide input on the list at the May 9 meeting. All 7-11 Committee meetings take place at Board Room No. 1 at the OUSD district office, 414 E. Ojai Ave., Ojai.
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