Sierra Sands forms plans for future

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Sierra Sands forms plans for futureIn an update to the members of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce, who heard about the latest developments in earthquake recovery and coronavirus preparation (see also related story, this page), Sierra Sands Unified School District Superintendent Dr. David Ostash also shared with the group some possible solutions that will equip our community for more updated educational facilities.

“We recognize that China Lake — Naval Air Weapons Station, Naval Air Warfare Center Weapons Division and all the other tenants — has a huge opportunity in front of it to invest billions to construct new facilities,” said Ostash.

“They had damages from the earthquake and will rebuild accordingly. But my hope is that rebuild will also help them thrive and prosper in the coming decades.”

He said that Sierra Sands, which serves some 5,200 students and is the third-largest employer in town, has a similar opportunity on a smaller scale.

As administrators work with public agencies to assess facility needs, Ostash said, they are also looking for ways to partner with the community that will facilitate improvements and modernization to local schools.

“We have identified as much as $250 million in needs,” he said. “But since we don’t have the means to cover all of them, we are going through a prioritization process so that we can attend to those in order of greatest need.”

With the help of Department of Defense grants, SSUSD procured 80-percent funding support for a brand-new Murray Middle School campus and a modernized Burroughs High School campus. Earthquake damages expedited the DOD grants to rebuild Richmond Elementary School, which is on an aggressive schedule targeting a Fall 2022 opening.

But some schools are so out of date that it would be less expensive to rebuild than to rehabilitate. California applies an assessment, 0 being the best and 100 being the worst, that quantifies the need for improvements. Ostash said that typically a school listed at 50 or higher is better off being rebuilt.

Monroe Middle School has a score of 95.

Since Monroe does not qualify for the federal funding option that rebuilt other local schools, Sierra Sands has to be creative about how to pay for modernization. The most successful way is passing a local bond measure that qualifies districts for state, federal and other matching grant options.

Historically, such measures have been successful — including Measure A passed here in 2006. However, Ostash noted, the results of the election show that voter trends have flipped.

“Spoiler alert — we wanted to ask voters to consider a bond in November,” he said.

However, the results of the recent primary and other events have prompted district officials to “lengthen the runway” to allow more time for community input.

“We will keep the effort warm so we can continue to develop priorities, and come back to the community in two years.”

Ostash said that time will also allow the district to monitor other developments — including a potential influx in students related to the recovery effort at China Lake, time to determine what happens after the two-year grant for the REALMS charter school expires and a better assessment of what needs remain after earthquake recovery efforts come to an end.

“I think we need this extra time. If we push when we don’t have a clear vision of what we need, I don’t see it passing,” said Ostash.

He noted that he believes a healthy partnership requires a recognition from the district of the wealth generated by industry and entrepreneurs, who develop the tax base that ultimate funds school districts, and delivery to the community of high-quality education from the district.

“We want to earn that high level of trust and confidence in the board of education, administration and staff that leads to our community saying, ‘Yes.’”

Story First Published: 2020-03-13