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Citrus Heights council votes 3-2 to explore forming new school district

By Sara Beth Williams–
In a split vote on March 23, the Citrus Heights City Council­ narrowly voted in favor of forming a committee to explore the feasibility of breaking off from the San Juan Unified School District to form a new district covering Citrus Heights.

Initial discussion occurred last year, when then-Vice Mayor Tim Schaefer proposed the idea of investigating what it would take for the city to form its own school district, citing low enrollment in Citrus Heights schools, loss of students to other districts, and low performance throughout most campuses in the city.

According to the California Department of Education, the San Juan Unified School District is the 10th largest school district in California, covering Citrus Heights, Carmichael, Fair Oaks and Arden-Arcade. The 12 public schools in Citrus Heights are all rated at a 5-out-of-10 and below, according to, with the exception of Cambridge Heights Elementary and Skycrest Elementary.

Public comments during last month’s council meeting were mixed, with several speakers acknowledging safety concerns and low academic scores throughout public schools in Citrus Heights. Others encouraged the council to support newly elected school board members before investigating the formation of a separate district.

One speaker, advocating in favor of forming the committee, referenced a recent shooting of two administrators by a student in a school in Colorado, and cited “very real safety concerns and academic record” at local schools. Councilmember Bret Daniels echoed concerns about safety, stating that anyone can still walk in through the front gate of his daughter’s local elementary school.

Speaker Al Fox encouraged the council to “postpone this effort for two years” in order to see how the new school board can enact local change. Councilmember Jayna Karpinski-Costa agreed, saying she’d like to see the new San Juan administration “turn something around,” but also said she’d support a significantly scaled-back look into what it would take to form a new school district.

Related: San Juan has 3 new school board members. What will that mean for 2023?

Daniel Thigpen, the school district’s senior director of labor relations, asked the council to consider whether the district’s “robust investments” into local community schools could be sustained by a small school district, if Citrus Heights broke away. He cited recent projects including the construction of a modernized Sylvan Middle School, the new state of the art athletic facilities currently under construction at Mesa Verde High School, and millions of dollars being set aside for safety enhancements at schools.

Councilmember MariJane Lopez-Taff said the city has “great schools” and great community support, but said she was in support of forming a committee “simply because we’re considering an option.”

Councilmember Porsche Middleton shared concern over Citrus Heights cutting ties with a large district, saying that creating a smaller district would result in poorer schools with less finances to invest.

“You’re going to lessen the education that my children get in Citrus Heights,” Middleton said.

Daniels countered that the City of Citrus Heights has 19,000 school-aged children who could hypothetically attend school in a new Citrus Heights school district, which he said could bring in millions of dollars in revenue to fund a new district.

He also clarified that “we’re not voting tonight to form a school district,” noting the agenda item was to form a committee that would look into the feasibility of forming a new school district and make a recommendation.

From Friday: SJUSD board votes to fill Citrus Heights seat by special election

The council voted 3-2 in support of forming the education committee, with Daniels, Schaefer and Lopez-Taff in support. Councilmembers Middleton and Karpinski-Costa voted against committee, as worded.

In an email to the Sentinel following the meeting, Daniels confirmed that he and Lopez-Taff currently sit on an ad hoc Education subcommittee and will be meeting in the “near future” to discuss the formation of an education advisory committee with the goal of exploring the formation of a Citrus Heights school district.

City Clerk Amy Van confirmed in an email to The Sentinel that the council directed staff to meet with the Education and Community Programs Ad Hoc Subcommittee to “develop a work plan and time frame” for a new Citrus Heights Education Advisory Committee. She said the work plan will then be brought back to City Council “for discussion and consideration of adoption at a future City Council meeting.”

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