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Our View: A win for Castaic in the school search

The Signal Editorial Board

Posted: July 17, 2010 11:11 p.m.
Updated: July 18, 2010 4:55 a.m.
 

Castaic won.

Faced with a choice between two competing property owners who were champing at the bit to sell land to the William S. Hart Union High School District, the school board made a decision.

In the board’s decision, Castaic won. The whole Santa Clarita Valley won.

When the new campus opens for the 2013-14 school year, Castaic will no longer be a divided community. No longer will its children shuffle between  high schools in Valencia and Stevenson Ranch, alternatively overcrowding them.

To say there have been bumps along the road in getting to the point of selecting a location for a high school in Castaic would be like saying there are still a few minor security problems in Afghanistan.

Castaic has waited long enough.

It has waited since 1992, when Los Angeles County approved plans for a 4,000-home tract surrounding Castaic Lake that was supposed to include a high school.

It has waited since 2001, when Santa Clarita Valley voters agreed to tax themselves to the tune of $158 million to finance several school construction projects, first and foremost a Castaic high school.

It has waited since November 2008, when SCV voters again agreed to tax themselves at double the price — $300 million, bringing the seven-year total close to a half-billion dollars — with assurances that a Castaic high school would remain the top priority.

Board President Paul Strickland said Wednesday the district owes it to Castaic to build a Castaic high school, and he’s right. The school board has promised again and again, and failed to deliver over and over.

It’s ironic. In other school districts, the board and administration tend to stay on target with their school construction plans, and it is the voters who can’t muster the wherewithal to part with their tax dollars.

In Santa Clarita, the voters have remained steadfast in their will to finance schools while the board and administration have succumbed to distraction.

As board member Steve Sturgeon soberly reminded the audience at Wednesday night’s Hart district board meeting, there is no absolute guarantee this time, either.

The board voted to enter negotiations with the owner of property in Romero Canyon, and there is always a chance that negotiations will fall through — or that the environmental-review process will yield pitfalls.

Besides, the board has been down this road before, picking sites in Hasley Canyon only to see them fall through for reasons of community opposition or less-than-forthright developers.

What’s different this time? There is a palpable confidence in the air. This time, Larry Rasmussen is the property owner at the other end of the negotiating table.

A longtime SCV resident and prominent commercial property developer, Rasmussen provides something that the other property owners who have come and gone have failed to engender: a sense that things are what they appear to be.

If Rasmussen says he can deliver a prepared campus pad in time for a school to open for the 2013-14 school year, it’s because he believes he can do it.

Failure is not a viable option for Rasmussen. Unlike a few of the other contenders in the school site game, Rasmussen has a positive reputation to protect. The school board members know it — and it gives them the upper hand in negotiations.

On the long road to a Castaic high school, Rasmussen is a relative latecomer. It was only a couple of years ago that he threw his Romero Canyon property into the mix after gaining clear title to it.

Rasmussen pushed hard for the school board to select his property, making repeated promises to deliver a prepared school site on time and on budget.

The community expects Rasmussen, more than it might expect others, to keep his word to level his hilly property quickly and sell it for a reasonable price — and within a reasonable amount of time.

At the same time, Rasmussen and the school board would be right to expect the community of Castaic, and the rest of our valley, to support the decision.

We voters have done our part to pay for the school; now we must come together once again to see it through.

As former Hart district Superintendent Jaime Castellanos said a year ago, the people of Castaic and all of Santa Clarita must
stand united if we’re to have a new school.

As an aside, one question lingers.

On Wednesday, the school board faced a decision between Rasmussen’s Romero Canyon property and a parcel owned by the nonprofit SCV Facilities Foundation.

The school board had hired outside consultants to evaluate the suitability of the two properties for a school. On Wednesday the consultants reported to the board that in all significant respects, both sites were equally suitable.

Here is the quandary.

The SCV Facilities Foundation was formed a decade ago for the sole and specific purpose of identifying and preparing school sites for the Hart district.

Rather than give the Facilities Foundation any special consideration Wednesday, the school board treated it like any other developer.

If that is the way things are, is there justification for the continued existence of the Facilities Foundation?

And if not, should the Facilities Foundation disband and hand over to the Hart district its property and the millions of dollars in its bank account?

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