Volunteers throughout the Tuolumne County are gathering signatures from voters to put a measure on the November 2014 ballot that would consolidate the county’s 11 school districts into one.
The petitions as of Monday had already acquired about 650 names.
The petitioners can be found at The Junction shopping center, Twain Harte Market, The Outpost gas station, and have been operating in Groveland on a social basis and will be at Tuolumne Market next week.
They got permission Monday to solicit signatures in front of Safeway in Sonora on Tuesdays and Thursdays and will begin there soon, possibly as early as today.
Members of Tuolumne County Committee for Unification of Resources for Education, or TuCCURE, began gathering signatures last month and are ramping things up during the holiday season.
They hope to put a measure on the 2014 ballot for voters to decide if the county should have just one school district.
For the petition to go through, signatures must be gathered from 25 percent of voters in each school district — about 13,500 total.
If passed, the measure would unify all county schools into one district, meaning — among other things — they would have one superintendent and one calendar versus the eight superintendents now and the mix of calendars, some matching and some not.
The salaries of the superintendents total over $1.1 million a year, one of the reasons TuCCURE cites for unification.
In comparison, Calaveras County spends less than $675,000 on superintendent salaries for about the same number of students.
Bulk purchasing power as a district is another pro that the County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva has agreed with. One district buying bulk utilities or a fleet of buses would be able to get a better deal.
But Silva takes no stance on the issue and has also said in school board meetings that he doesn’t think unification would save money.
Many other school administrators say the same thing and that costs, including administrative ones, would just be transferred to the district — which would have to hire more staff.
But on the street of East Sonora on Friday, voters so far seemed sympathetic to at least getting the notion on the ballot — if not passed.
Within a half hour, most local registered voters that walked by the booth — set up between PriceCo Foods and CVS Pharmacy — signed the petition. The total was about 10.
Others that passed by were generally from out of town, weren’t registered to vote or had already been solicited by the volunteers — a total of about 20 people.
That period was representative of the whole signature drive so far, said TuCCURE member Lane Willey, who is a retired special education administrator who worked for all county schools for 14 years and was running the booth.
She estimated that 80 to 90 percent of people who stop at the booth sign the petition and that more people stop than a usual petition drive because its relatively apolitical.
Willey also said less than 20 percent don’t already know what it’s for.
“It’s kind of a hot topic,” said Justin Coyle, a voter from the Soulsbyville School District who passed by and signed the petition and also said “I’m all for it. There’s no continuity between the school districts.”
No passersby said anything against unification, but on another day, a bus driver wouldn’t sign the petition, saying she could lose her job, according to Willey’s husband, Jim Willey, who was also at the booth and is a former school psychologist who worked for all county schools for 20 years.