Covert gives update on Sierra Sands

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Covert  gives  update on  Sierra  SandsA new middle-school campus, ongoing high-school renovations, award-winning school sites, high-achieving students and programs that meet student needs at virtually every level are just a few of the reasons to be proud of Sierra Sands Unified School District, according to Trustee Amy (Castillo) Covert.

At the recent meeting of the Ridgecrest Republican Women Federated, Covert spoke about some of the current affairs of the district — including the results of her participation in a recent delegation of education advocates who met with elected leaders in Washington, D.C.

Covert explained that the unique demographics of the Indian Wells Valley — including its geographic remoteness and severe industrial limitations — make Sierra Sands a disadvantaged district within California. While many of the more urban regions of the state have numerous economic engines that feed traditional revenue streams that augment education, the IWV’s top employer — the U.S. Navy — does not similarly feed into those taxes.

The provision for offsetting this deficit is Federal Impact Aid, which is allocated to a broader region — of which Sierra Sands is just one part — and granted based on a variety of factors including the amount of federal land and children of uniformed military personnel in a given school district.

When sequestration was implemented in 2013, FIA was capped — leaving Sierra Sands to fill the gap left for cost-of-living and other annual increases.

In an attempt to restore the annual increase, and re-establish FIA in the federal budget, a delegation of National Association of Federally Impacted Schools — which included Covert and Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Christina Giraldo — traveled to Washington, D.C., to lobby House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy and other leadership.

“For the first time in years, they decided to increase our funding by $2 million,” said Covert.

She added that the money will be split by other districts represented in NAFIS. “But it is a step in the right direction,” said Covert.

“Our district has been involved with impact aid and NAFIS for many, many years,” said Superintendent Ernie Bell. “Our representatives who go to Washington D.C. attend meetings and bring back information that is extremely valuable to us — in fact it’s important to every other district that is impacted.

“The tax base for Sierra Sands is completely different from typical districts, and so is our budget. We rely on this money to support our schools, and because of that it’s critical we keep that in front of our elected representatives.”

He also praised Covert for her longstanding commitment to the district, and to NAFIS, by continuing to give Sierra Sands a voice at the federal level.

“Ms. Castillo-Covert is well known at the capitol for being an advocate for our schools and our programs. Having that knowledge she carries and the relationships she has developed, has been so beneficial to Sierra Sands and our alliance with federally impacted schools.”

One of the biggest visible changes SSUSD will undergo in the coming year is the relocation of Murray Middle School to the campus adjacent to Burroughs High School. Construction is expected to be completed in time to welcome incoming students in August.

Renovations at Burroughs are expected to be completed by the end of the calendar year.

As the modernization activities begin to wind down, Covert noted that the opportunity represented years of work securing the $70 million to cover the costs. Approximately 80 percent was covered by a federal grant for military-impacted schools. To receive the award, Murray and Burroughs earned the dubious distinction of being ranked as 4th and 10th worst, respectively, in the nation.

Another historic change will be the closure of Rand School, which has served local students for decades. Sierra Sands lost the funding to keep the school operating several years ago, and attempted to keep it afloat through subsidizing with other revenue streams. However, with only 2 students enrolled for next year, the district decided that they would have to find other ways of accommodating those students.

On the heels of graduation, Covert noted that nearly 300 students received diplomas earlier this month. Those students earned more than $4 million in scholarship and awards to pursue higher education and training.

“We have a lot to be proud of in Sierra Sands. There is a lot of talent, and a lot of very bright minds,” said Covert.

“Sierra Sands has a lot to offer the community, and in turn we have a community that offers its support in return. I’m very thankful for that.”

Story First Published: 2017-06-09