One of Oxnard School District’s trustees is loudly protesting a $1.6 million charge for improving a sewer line that services Elm Street School, arguing that the cost of the project should be paid for by the city of Oxnard, not the school district.

Denis O’Leary has twice cast the only vote against spending OSD money for the underground utility work, $800,022 on June 6 and $886,870 on Sept. 16. Both times the OSD school board voted 4-1 to pay for improving the sewer line.

“I wanted to go to the city and see if they’d be open-minded,” said O’Leary. “There weren’t too many questions asked by the other trustees.”

O’Leary says he agrees that the district should be responsible for hooking the school up to the pipeline, but not the homes along the next two to three blocks that will also be serviced by it.
“It’s not the school district that is going to be charging them, it’s the city,” said O’Leary.

But he acknowledged that the city of Oxnard would probably litigate any attempt to get it to pay for the project, delaying it for years.

“We can’t open the school without this, and it’s possible the city will just delay this as long as they can to save their budget,” O’Leary said.

The sewer line’s pipe diameter will go from 8 to 10 or 12 inches, with lift stations added to push sewage up a slope. A storm drain will also be made larger to comply with Oxnard’s sewer system rules.

Maintaining the sewer line, with one section on Iris Street and another on Marino Street, becomes the city’s responsibility after the improvements are made.

City Councilmember Bryan MacDonald said that the cost is OSD’s responsibility because it’s part of a school district project, an expansion of Elm Street School.

MacDonald said that, typically, when a parcel is developed, the cost is paid by the owner, in this case OSD.

“It’s because of their project that it has to be enlarged,” MacDonald said, to meet the increased demand on the sewer line after the school is expanded.

But Francine Castanon, who is running for City Council District 6, was less certain that the city shouldn’t be paying the cost because the city’s outdated maps don’t make it clear who has responsibility.

“I have a map from the ’50s that shows it as a city line, but who knows what deals have been made since that map?” said Castanon. “I don’t believe the school should have to pay all that money until we know exactly who owns what.”

OSD Superintendent Dr. Cesar Morales said that it was appropriate for the school district to pick up the cost because it is part of a larger plan to improve several existing campuses and build two new ones. Voters passed bond measures in 2012 and 2016 to pay for new construction.

Improvements to Harrington Elementary School have already been made and more are planned for McKenna Elementary and Lemonwood Middle schools.

Much of the improvement is replacing old, temporary structures with new, permanent ones, said Morales. He said that another reason for the upgrades is to ease overcrowding on some campuses.

There are also plans for two new schools, one in the Seabridge neighborhood near the housing development next to the shopping center at Victoria Avenue and Wooley Road, and another on a parcel that the district recently purchased near Patterson and Doris streets.

“We have to make an investment not just in the school district, but the community,” said Morales.