Rancho Simi, Oak Park settle their differences

Dispute over park funding comes to an end

TIME FOR A MAKEOVER—The construction and paint at Mae Boyar Park Community Center is showing its age, but a funding dispute has put plans for a new building on hold.                    Acorn file photo

Officials are hoping the rift has been healed between Oak Park Unified School District and Rancho Simi Recreation and Park District regarding changes to a longtime childcare program at the Oak Park schools.

Oak Park’s decision earlier this year to take control of the AM/PM program away from Rancho Simi put the two jurisdictions at odds—and future funding for both communities in flux.

For more than 35 years Rancho

Simi has run the park programs in Oak Park—including the AM/PM club—and has used revenues for maintenance and operational costs in both communities. Construction of a new Mae Boyar Community Center was even being planned. But the school district’s takeover of the AM/PM Club created a financial pinch that resulted in cuts to services in both Simi Valley and Oak Park, and will delay construction of the new Mae Boyar building in Oak Park.

Rancho Simi relied on the $1.3 million in annual revenue from the Oak Park daycare to maintain operations in both communities, and when the Simi Valley agency announced budget cuts in response to the Oak Park withdrawal, confusion arose as to how the revenue from Oak Park programs had been spent in the first place.

Some in Oak Park said their community wasn’t getting its fair share of the $3.4 million in fees and taxes that Oak Park generates as a whole—and that some of the Oak Park revenue was being used to benefit Simi Valley. Rancho Simi officials said at a May 3 meeting that both communities, not just Oak Park, will have to bear the brunt of the AM/PM revenue loss.

“If we hadn’t taken money out of Simi Valley and took (all the cuts) out of Oak Park, what would they do?” Rancho Simi vice chair Elaine Freeman said.

“Our main purpose is to make our park district in Simi Valley and Oak Park the best park district,” said Mark Johnson, chair of the Rancho Simi district.

The early May meeting led to a more comprehensive look at the Rancho Simi budget on May 15 that involved both park district officials and Oak Park Committee members.

Oak Park Committee member Janna Orkney said that after meeting with Larry Peterson, Rancho Simi park director, and other members of his board, she believes the park district is taking a fair approach in the services they must cut to make ends meet after the AM/PM loss.

Pulling back

To save money, the portable buildings that had been used for the Oak Park AM/PM will be sold, and 67 part-time employees in both communities will lose their jobs, Peterson said. A full-time Rancho Simi program director will retire and the position will not be filled, and a recreation coordinator position may stay vacant, he said.

School field maintenance in Simi Valley, including the watering the fields, will be stopped on July 1, the park board said

In addition, Oak Park High School tennis courts will no longer be maintained through the park district, and the Rancho Simi groundskeeper in Oak Park will be moved to Simi Valley.

“We just have to do the best we can with the resources we have,” Peterson said.

He said the recreation program fees do not raise any money beyond the cost to operate them.

“There was no profit with the after school clubs,” Peterson said.

Mae Boyar on hold

A $2-million renovation of the 50-year-old Mae Boyar building was postponed and the status of the money that had been raised for the project remained unclear. Money for a Mae Boyar redesign has already been spent. Orkney said a $400,000 Mae Boyar fund balance would be earmarked for use on the project in the future. A permit for the redesign and construction of the new building only has a two-year window, however.

With the construction put on hold, Freeman questioned whether Rancho Simi would still maintain the restrooms at Mae Boyar Park. No answer was given.

Services at the Oak Park parks will be reduced. As for the school fields, Oak Park superintendent Tony Knight said his district takes care of its own campuses.

Oak Park will introduce its AM/PM club in the fall, and Knight said more than 650 children have already registered.

John Loesing contributed to this story.