News from around the Ojai Valley

Sunday, Feb. 16, 3-5 p.m.: Ojai Chautauqua panel takes on declining public school enrollment in the Ojai Valley

2 15 Decline

By Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter

The Ojai Chautauqua will continue its series on education Feb. 16, with a panel addressing declining public school enrollment in the Ojai Valley.
The event is from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Agora Foundation Office, 417 Bryant Circle, Ojai. Tickets are $10 and can be ordered online at https://ojaicivildiscourse.org/about/.
Since 1999, public school enrollment in Ojai has been in decline, with attendance soon approaching nearly 50% from its peak., according to Agora Foundation Executive Director Andy Gilman. 
Confirmed panelists for the discussion thus far are real estate agent Erik Wilde, Ojai Unified School District Superintendent Tiffany Morse and Nordhoff High School student Jessica Ramirez. There will also be a member of the Ojai City Council on the panel.
Topics discussed by the panel will include demographics, cost of living, employment and school performance. Gilman said: “The question that we want to ask the community is, ‘What kind of a community do we want to be?’ Do we want to be a community that has a very small public school population, or do we want to be a community that has a thriving young family population?”
Wilde will be on hand to discuss the cost of living, and how it can be difficult for young families to move to and live in the valley. 
As far as employment is concerned, Gilman said there used to be companies such as Behavioral Science Technology, ITIm and Lynda.com in the valley. These were office jobs that allowed people to live and work here and make a professional wage.
Gilman said: “Those jobs were here, but there has been a huge decline in professional jobs. What has been on the rise are tourism jobs. You see with a really vibrant tourism economy, you have a lot of employment, but it’s centered around restaurants, the Ojai Valley Inn and stuff like that … the traffic coming into Ojai and the traffic leaving Ojai … there are people basically leaving to their professional jobs in Ventura, Oxnard and Santa Barbara.”
Part of the discussion will look at how the valley can attract professional employers who would like to be here. The Ojai City Council has also given the Ojai Chamber of Commerce funding to do just that, Gilman added.
On the topic of school performance, Morse will talk about some of her innovative ideas for OUSD, and how the district can attract more students.
Ramirez, a teenager, will discuss what life is like growing up in the Ojai Valley, Gilman said. 
Gilman added: “Caring about our public education should be as important as water. We all care about water, it’s so visceral. We totally understand how important the water is.” But having an educated population is important “in terms of how we vote, how we’re citizens together, what’s the future of our valley,” he said. “If we want to become a retirement community, okay. That’s where it’s headed …. If that’s not what we want, we’re going to have to inject some energy into the business, the real estate and the school system.”
For more information, call 805-231-5974.
To read the February 2020 Public Policy Institute of California report on “Declining Enrollment in California Schools,” visit: https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/declining-enrollment-in-california-schools-fiscal-challenges-and-opportunities-in-the-coming-decade.pdf .