The Santa Paula Unified School District board held its first meeting at the Santa Paula Community Center on Dec. 5 before a jovial crowd of a little more than 100. The new district is a result of the passage of Measure M, which received nearly two-thirds voter approval in November. It combined the nine schools within the Santa Paula Union High School District and the Santa Paula Elementary School District. All five board members were chosen by ballot, from a list of six candidates.

“I think it’s going to be a case of the sum is greater than the parts that comprise it,” said Chris Wilson, one of the five inaugural members of the recently formed district. “I’m looking forward to this.”

Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Stan Mantooth swore in Wilson and the four other newly appointed members, Christina Urias, Diana Ponce-Gomez, Michelle Kolbeck and Kelsey Stewart.

Mantooth oversaw the first half of the meeting, citing the importance of the occasion before handing the reins over to Urias, who was named board president. Kolbeck, who was an outspoken opponent of Measure M, was named clerk.

The optimism in the room was palpable. With the only outbursts composed of laughter, board members quickly navigated through a list of initial tasks, such as deciding on a domain name and when they would meet in the future.

Running less than two hours, the meeting ended much as it began, as sugary sweet as the complimentary cookies offered at the door.

But the question remains: is a bigger, brand-new district actually better?

The Briggs, Mupu and Santa Clara Elementary School Districts didn’t seem to think so. All three opted out of the proposed unification. When asked why, Mupu Superintendent and Principal Jeanine Gore indicated there were many reasons.

“In short, neither the Mupu parent community (as voiced in the public hearing) nor the governing board of the district felt that joining a larger district was in the best interest of district students,” said Gore.  “Just as some people prefer a larger district, others prefer a small district. We feel that people in the Santa Paula community should have a small-district option.”

Deborah Cuevas, superintendent of the Briggs School District, agrees. “Another key factor that parents in the community spoke of,” added Cuevas, “was the immediate access to the administration when they have issues that need to be addressed. The superintendent is also the principal who is also in the classrooms and on the playground and in the cafeteria.”

Both Gore and Cuevas pointed out that their districts have been running efficiently on their own, avoiding furlough days and layoffs. There is also no reason to think that opting out will lead to alienation.

 “We know we will continue to have a great relationship with the new unified district,” said Gore.

The board will meet on the first and third Thursdays of every month, starting Jan. 3. A location has yet to be determined.