Orinda’s High-Quality Schools Imperiled

Orinda’s High-Quality Schools Imperiled

Imperious and remote forces are placing the quality of Orinda’s schools in jeopardy.

While the Orinda Union School District (OUSD) is in the top one percent of public school districts in California, the State of California is planning to bring demographic changes to Orinda.  These changes, if carried out, could lower educational quality.

The one percent figure that rates the quality of Orinda’s school comes from the 2017-2018 annual report of the Educational Foundation of Orinda.  The foundation helps provide extra funds for Orinda’s public schools.

According to the foundation, Orinda receives about $7,000 per pupil annually from government sources.  Foundation support brings that total up to $10,700.  The foundation claims the per-pupil funds in New York State and Massachusetts are $22,000 and $17,500 respectively.

In a January 2019 interview, Jason Kaune, a member of the OUSD board of trustees, claimed that injecting more pupils into Orinda’s schools could bring about new challenges to the school district.  “The pressure is huge,” he said.  Dr. Carolyn Seaton, who is the superintendent of OSUD schools and who was also present at the January 2019 interview, said matters are “getting very challenging.”  She added that the “financial future is cloudy.”

Currently, OUSD has one teacher for pupils who need to learn English.  That teacher is used in all five of OUSD’s schools.  If Orinda’s demographics change, Dr. Seaton and Mr. Kaune said, more teachers could be needed for English-language learners.

In recent years, the State of California has enacted legislation that will bring more housing to Orinda (and other communities).  A  A certain portion of this housing is to be set aside for people of various income levels.

Building housing for people of different income levels is not new in Orinda.  Several years ago what is called the Housing Element, a mandate from the State of California, was adopted in the city.  For the period covering 2009 to 2014, Cycle 4 (version 4) of the Housing Element required Orinda to construct 218 new residences, of which 118 were to be set aside for “very low-income” and “low-income” people.

In 2015, Cycle 5 (version 5) of the Housing Element was adopted.  Under Cycle 5, which covers the years 2015 to 2023, 227 housing units are to be built.  Of these 227 units, 131 are to be reserved for “very low-income” and “low-income” individuals.

In 2018, the state legislature passed and Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed Senate Bill 828.  The bill requires cities to zone more land for residential construction.   According to the May 31, 2018, issue of the Real Deal, a real estate publication, “. . . Senate Bill 828 requires local officials to zone for the need ‘. . . for all income levels.’ “

Currently, the state legislature is considering Senate Bill 50, which, if enacted into law, will require local communities to construct more housing within one-quarter mile of a frequently-used bus stop or within one-half mile of a train station.

The constitutionality of constructing more housing for California’s low-income people is unclear.  In 1950, the state’s voters passed a constitutional amendment, now called Article 34, that restricts the construction of housing for low-income people.  Article 34 states:  “No low rent housing project shall hereafter be developed, constructed, or acquired . . .  until a majority of the electors of a city, town, or county . . . approve such project by voting in favor thereof at an election . . .”

California’s current housing shortage may disappear.  In June 2018, the Bay Area Council, a business group, released a survey which found that “46 percent of [Bay Area] voters are ready to leave in the next few years . . .”

The Nov. 30, 2018, issue of Alert, a publication of the California Chamber of Commerce, reported “that earning enough income to enjoy a middle class lifestyle is becoming almost impossible in my part of California.”

Another factor that may increase housing supply is the demise of the Baby Boom generation, a generation born between 1946 and 1964.  Baby Boomers who currently are retired or almost retired may not exist in five to 15 years, freeing up extra housing.

In the January 2019 interview, Mr. Kaune of the OUSD board of trustees, said that he believes the main reason people choose to live in Orinda is the high quality of the city’s schools.  According to Superintendent Dr. Seaton, 90 percent of Orinda’s pupils plan to attend a college or university.  State of California housing plans, she said, could, without extra money, harm Orinda’s schools.  She added that Orinda is at a “tipping point.”  ν

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