Fallout in the foothills over school mergers

FRESNO, Calif.

Under the plan being considered by the Madera County Committee on School District Organization, Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District, Chawanakee Unified School District, Raymond Knowles Union Elementary School District, and Yosemite Unified School District would turn into a single district. The proposal was made in part due to a decrease in state funding and declining enrollment. "The job market has changed. Families are moving where there are jobs so there are many foothill areas, or areas similar geographically to this area, that are experiencing the same kind of decline in enrollment throughout California," said Sally Frazier, a consultant hired by the Madera County Office of Education.

Though two elementary school districts are included in the proposal, the issue causing the most controversy in the mountain districts is specific to high schools. The new Minarets High School in Chawanakee Unified has taken students away from Yosemite High School in Oakhurst and Yosemite Unified is now facing serious budget issues. But many at Tuesday's meeting said the county shouldn't consolidate four districts to solve a problem between two schools.

"We need to look at solving a high school problem and not affecting all of the kids in all of the districts because the high schools can't figure out how to solve their own problem," said Ron Bucheger, a board member with the Bass Lake Joint Union School District.

The county committee has financial and feasibility studies underway. But Tuesday night, several community members asked the committee to slow down. Right now, it's the unknown that is raising the most concern. "I would like in a perfect world for both options to exist for parents to choose. But I don't want to create Yosemite becoming a lesser of a school. I want it to stay strong. That's the school my kids are going to," said Oakhurst parent Terri Worthington Pack.

Tuesday's meeting was just one of four public hearings on the issue. If the Madera County Committee on School District Organization decides to move forward with the plan, the public would have the final vote. It could be on a ballot as soon as November.

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