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South county schools say financial district would save money

By Rob Rogers
The Record Searchlight, Redding, CA
September 27, 2009

School administrators in south Shasta County are closely watching the progress of an Assembly bill that would allow small school districts to band together and form financial districts.

"We like the idea," said Larry Robins, superintendent of the Happy Valley Union Elementary School District. "We're not big. We're not L.A."

If approved, the bill would help small districts find access to greater pools of money and then protect those funds from being raided by the state.

The bill allows for three or more neighboring districts to group together and seek voter-approved parcel taxes that would be divided across the partnering districts, said Shannan Velayas, spokeswoman for Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Martinez, who is sponsoring the bill.

The tax would have to be approved by a two-thirds vote.

Listed as AB 276, the bill sits on Gov. Schwarzenegger's desk waiting to be signed.

If signed into law, Robins said his district would see a number of other school districts - including Cascade Union Elementary, Pacheco Union Elementary, Cottonwood Union Elementary and Anderson Union High - band together to form a south county financial district.

Many of those districts won bond approval from voters last fall and likely wouldn't go out for another bond in the near future, Robins said.

"It's a long-term type thing," he said.

However, the five districts would start putting in place plans to share services like busing, food preparation, business management and special education. The hope is that sharing such services would avoid duplication, save money and give all five districts more educational options, he said.

"That's what we're exploring among ourselves," he said.

Velayas said the bill ultimately empowers small school districts and protects students.

"We've really got to return local control to the community," she said.

By allowing smaller districts to group together, "we expand the geography so more kids are helped."

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