South Valley Middle: Too pool for school?

The pool at South Valley Middle School is scheduled to be filled this summer.

The Gilroy Unified School District is facing $3 million to $7 million in state cuts next year, which means the 17-year-old pool at South Valley Middle School will sink into the growing pile of budget casualties if someone doesn’t throw it a lifeline.

Wednesday’s joint city/GUSD meeting was the second time City Council members and School Board trustees discussed this problem. The pool requires nearly $300,000 in repairs and ongoing operating funding to stay open.

The School Board made it clear it can’t sustain the pool without significant help from the city. Mayor Al Pinheiro said he is open to this – if GUSD shoulders some of the burden.

That’s a problem, according to Board Trustee Mark Good. With furlough days, swollen class sizes and other major reductions looming on the horizon, GUSD’s cupboard is already cached.

“The last thing I want to do is close it down, but we may have no other option,” said Board Trustee Fred Tovar. “The dollars should stay in the classroom. I really want to keep the pool open, but we have to find a middle ground so we can continue to have this pool up and running.”

As the only aquatic facility between Gilroy’s three junior highs, the pool is enjoyed by both the education and community sectors. South Valley offers a bi-weekly adaptive P.E. swim class for special education students, a P.E. swim class unit, and is used by the wrestling and cross country teams.

The pool is also used as a city-run summer aquatics program that includes lifeguard training, swim lessons and the Gilroy Gators – a competitive, nonprofit swim team headed by the Parks and Recreation Department. City Recreation Director Maria de Leon said Gilroy receives a federal grant to provide free summer swim lessons to children who live in the surrounding area. The city also covers the $6,737 cost of summer lifeguards and swim equipment.

Continuing to take away from an area “that’s underserved” is what concerns Pinheiro.

“The east side keeps getting the ax,” he said.

But if there’s “zilch” coming out of GUSD’s pocket, “the city is not prepared to carry the whole burden,” Pinheiro added.

The City of Gilroy already operates summer recreation programs at Gilroy High School, in addition to running the community activities pool at CHS.

Assuming more funding responsibility for South Valley’s pool “would be very challenging,” said City Administrator Tom Haglund.

GUSD Co-President Tom Bundros said he wants to know if the city can help with both the one-time repair costs, in addition to the ongoing operational costs.

Both groups agreed to agendize the topic for further discussion. The City Council and School Board will examine what percent of the pool’s costs they are able to cover.

“If the city can’t step up and contribute a large portion, then that’s a discussion that we need to have to see if there’s any alternative,” said Trustee Tovar. “But with the cards that we’ve been dealt, we just don’t have any money.”

South Valley Principal Anisha Munshi was also present to voice her opinion.

“I would like to see the pool open,” she said. “But at the same time, it’s hard for me to let go of my teachers. I think what would be great is for us to come up with some kind of a partnership that benefits both parties.”

Click here to view a group of comprehensive reports compiled by the district examining the operating costs of CHS, GHS and South Valley pools.