Rural schools struggle to fill administrator positions

School districts serve students in southern San Benito County.

In the heat of the election campaign battles, there is an underlying challenge facing rural school districts in the county. School districts in sparsely populated areas have a harder time filling school board positions than urban and suburban schools, often requiring more effort from districts to reach out to the community to fill these positions. vacant. Crucial to accessibility to education in rural areas of San Benito County, these schools are an indispensable resource.

In this year’s ballot, several school districts in rural areas have board positions to fill and no candidates have been filed to fill them. Bitterwater-Tully Union School District and Tres Pinos School District, serving 33 and 63 students respectively, both have three vacancies up for re-election. The Panoche school district, with an enrollment of 11 students in 2021-22, has two open positions. Jefferson School District, with an annual enrollment of 6 students, will have a position to fill within its school board.

With those board positions left vacant after the Nov. 8 election, it is then up to the individual district and other board members to appoint people willing to fill those directorships for two- or four-year terms. Despite the challenges posed by declining populations, members of these communities continue to intervene to preserve the quality of education in rural districts.

The Cienega Union School District, which serves 24 students, has three positions up for re-election, all of which will be filled by returning school board members. Council Chairman Patrick Wirz continues to serve on the council as he has since 1975. Born and raised in San Benito County, Wirz joined the council shortly after returning to the family ranch after college. He has since had three children who attend and graduate from Cienega School and now has grandchildren. On several occasions he considered quitting, but was asked to stay.

“I thought that since my family were district ratepayers, I wanted to make sure my kids would have the best education possible,” Wirz said. “I wanted to make sure that the money spent on school was well spent. I felt it was my civic duty to contribute something to the community and part of that is serving on the board.

Despite various attempts to speak with additional sources from rural districts, there was a general reluctance to comment on the subject. Some are hard to reach due to unreliable cell service, others declined to comment due to a lack of confidence in their ability to accurately discuss the difficulties these areas face.

Because the Cienega Union school district is small, it faces challenges similar to those of pending vacancies. Smaller student populations mean a smaller pool of parents and local residents to draw from to fill board seats; many of these families have demanding occupations that leave little time for service in a school board position.

“There are only so many hours in the day, so a lot of people don’t have time. It’s hard for people to fit that into their schedule,” Wirz said. “In most of these rural districts, the area is quite sparsely populated. I think it’s very important to the county that we keep existing rural schools open.

County Schools Superintendent Krystal Lomanto said that throughout her tenure (she was elected in June 2014), rural school districts have always been able to fill their board positions.

“It’s an amazing little community and they do an amazing job of educating rural kids. Along with rural school districts, because of their location, they are critical to educating families in those areas because of the distance they would have to travel to reach a larger school district,” she said.

Rural schools such as Panoche and Bitterwatter-Tully save parents and elementary and middle school students the 45-minute commute to school in Hollister. High school students have no choice but to move. Families in agricultural occupations, as is often the case in South County, rarely have schedules flexible enough to make that daily commute.

“If we didn’t have rural schools, these families would have to travel long distances to educate their children. It would be a significant test for our rural communities,” Lomanto said.

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