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Talk about how to reconfigure school facilities returned to the Guadalupe Union School District board of trustees Wednesday night as development of the Pasadera housing project nears a milestone.

When contractors broke ground on the 800-unit development in 2015, plans for a new school – the district’s third – were included in the project. Construction on the new junior high school can start as early as next summer if developers build 279 homes by then.

With more than 200 homes completed as of June 4, trustees and administrators began brainstorming how the three schools – Mary Buren Elementary, Kermit McKenzie Intermediate and the yet-to-be-named school site – should be configured to best serve their growing student body.

“You have to realize that the junior high is two to three years out,” Superintendent Emilio Handall told trustees, “so the sooner we start thinking about how we want our schools to look like, the more time and more opportunity we have to plan and ensure any transition or configuration we want goes smooth.”

District projections indicate nearly 400 new students will move into Guadalupe Union’s boundaries by the time the project is complete. Total district enrollment, last reported at 1,305, would swell by 30% to approximately 1,700 students.

To kick start the reconfiguration process, trustees last summer voted to move all fifth-grade classes to a new, eight-room building at Kermit McKenzie. The move, former Superintendent Ed Cora said, would partially mitigate the bump in enrollment.

But with both sites nearing capacity, Handall said the district should consider re-configuring their campuses again to meet district growth.

The current reconfiguration proposal – one school for students in transitional kindergarten through third grade; one for students in fourth, fifth and sixth grade; and a traditional junior high school – is not one Handall was familiar with. Though the plan would provide a small campus for seventh and eighth graders, it could potentially cause uneven distribution of students in the early grades — 725 students would attend the TK-3 school, and 600 would go to the 4-6 school.

One possibility recommended by Handall: two 500-student elementary schools, and a 300-student junior high.

“We’re trying to keep it balanced,” he said, noting that other elementary districts in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties follow a similar configuration. Though Handall touted the possibility for smaller schools, focused academic programs and room for growth as potential positives, he said the configuration could cause challenges for transportation and foster rivalries within the community.

"It creates rivalries that shouldn’t be there," trustee Maria Luisa Baro said.  "I get the crosstown rivalries in sports, but [then] it starts to affect … things that kids don’t have any control of."

Handall said any decision on school configuration would go through a lengthy planning and review process with school staff, community members and other stakeholders before a proposal is brought to the board. Trustees voiced a desire to conduct a public workshop on the proposal, which was tentatively scheduled for the fall.

Reach reporter Mathew Burciaga at 805-739-2205 or mburciaga@leecentralcoastnews.com. Follow him on Twitter @mathewburciaga

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Education Reporter

Mathew Burciaga is a Santa Maria Times reporter who covers education, agriculture and public safety. Prior to joining the Times, Mathew ran a 114-year-old community newspaper in Wyoming. He owns more than 40 pairs of crazy socks from across the globe.