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Scott Thomas Wilk: Castaic High — Getting to the Promised Land

Right Here Right Now

Posted: October 29, 2009 4:38 p.m.
Updated: October 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.
It took Moses 40 years to lead the Children of Israel across the desert to the Promised Land. So why should we be surprised, in an era of environmental impact reports and NIMBYism, that the William S. Hart Union High School District has yet to finalize its 10-year search for a home for the proposed Castaic high school?

Yet one gets the feeling the district is finally approaching the “Land of Milk and Honey.”

True, earlier this year the district hit a bump in the road when it was discovered the Sterling Gateway Center in the Valencia Commerce Center, which was the district’s first choice, could not accommodate a school due to a deed restriction.

Since that time, it seems, the district has redoubled its efforts to find a school home, and it should. Dwindling state matching funds and lower construction costs due to the economic downturn, provide a strong impetus to complete this decade-long sojourn.

Recently, Hart district Superintendent Jaime Castellanos called on the Castaic community to provide input and search for consensus on a site.

The Castaic community has responded. The Castaic Area Town Council — the elected advisory committee that provides input on land-use decisions and other matters — voted to ask the Hart district to review Romero Canyon and the former Ion Communities site in addition to the two sites presently under district consideration.

The Castaic Chamber of Commerce and the Val Verde Civic Association have taken it a step further by endorsing Romero Canyon as their preferred site.

There is a lot to like about the Romero Canyon site: It has the initial approval as a school site from the Department of Education, much of the mandated environmental work has been completed, the pad is large enough to accommodate a school site as well as additional facilities and it is located in the pathway of future development.

The kicker is, the Romero Canyon developer has pledged to stay in the deal until the pad is completed. This is a huge bonus, as grading a site in Castaic’s topography is complicated and expensive. Mistakes cost time and money. This is the same developer that graded the Golden Valley High School pad. So the district, parents, students and taxpayers can have confidence the pad will be delivered on time and on budget.

Romero Canyon had been one of the finalists in the district’s last site search and Hart district board Member Gloria Mercado-Fortine showed leadership on the Castaic high school issue by advocating for this site.  

Despite the setbacks, no one should doubt the Hart district board’s commitment to building a Castaic high school.

Remember, it’s not just about the students in Castaic and Val Verde. It’s also about relieving overcrowding at Valencia and West Ranch high schools, where Castaic students are sent.

That is why building a Castaic high school was listed as “Priority A” in last November’s Measure SA school bond.    

I believe the Hart district board will keep its promise to the residents of Castaic and to Santa Clarita Valley homeowners, who agreed to tax themselves $300 million for additional school construction and renovations.

With three seats up Tuesday, it is possible a new board majority could be seated.

Not to worry — Every candidate running has stated they support building a Castaic high school. Clearly, board member and candidate Paul Strickland, as well as local businessman and candidate Joe Messina, have been longtime leaders in the effort to secure a Castaic school site.

However, personally knowing the other candidates in the race, I am 100 percent confident each of them is committed to fulfilling this campaign pledge.  

The new governing board will owe a debt of gratitude to the old board which has persevered through this complicated and sometimes controversial issue. In particular, Steve Sturgeon and Gloria Mercado-Fortine, as members of the district’s growth committee, have dedicated countless hours to pursuing the best possible site for the students of northwest Santa Clarita Valley.

The process will lead ultimately to the culmination of a Castaic high school, and fulfill a decade-old promise made to the community by the Hart district.

With the Hart board, district administration and Castaic community leaders working together, securing a viable site for the Castaic high school will happen.

We are not in the Promised Land, but we can see the Jordan River!

Scott Thomas Wilk is president of Liaison Communications, a strategic communications firm and an elected member of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal.


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