SACRAMENTO -- Thousands of students from across the state trek to Clovis Unified's mountain retreat near Sonora each year for hands-on science and nature classes. Now the district wants to offer something new at its Sierra outdoor school: booze.
Don't worry, it's not for the kids.
The district is seeking to lift the state ban on alcohol sales at school retreat sites in hopes it can lure more adult weekend rentals, such as corporate outings, family reunions or civic club events.
"When they are told 'you cannot have alcohol on the premises,' that makes them look elsewhere," said Kelly Avants, a district spokeswoman. "We are losing out on revenue opportunities."
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The district is backing a bill that would allow alcohol sales at overnight retreat centers statewide that are owned and run by county offices of education or school districts. Assembly Bill 1860, by Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, follows a pilot program he got passed last year allowing alcohol sales at Foothill Horizons, an outdoor school in Sonora run by the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Marin County is the only other county with an exemption.
The budgets of school-run retreat centers are dependent on rental fees paid by school districts. But education funding cuts could lead to lower attendance, Berryhill's office noted when pushing last year's bill.
The Clovis Unified School District's Sierra Outdoor School and Conference Center draws up to 10,000 students a year from districts from across the state. Enrollment fees range from $116 per student for an overnight stay to $232 for five days.
Officials do not have an estimate on projected revenues from adult outings if alcohol is allowed. Avants said the proposal is not aimed at helping to close the district's current budget gap, a $28 million hole that is forcing officials to leave jobs vacant and consider pay cuts. Rather, the bill "addresses the long-term budget of the Sierra Outdoor School, which operates as a fee-based program," she said in an e-mail.
Under the bill, alcohol could be served only on weekends and only when students are not on the grounds. Avants said sales would be managed by outside groups and that no school staff would be involved. So far, no one is formally opposing the bill, which passed its first legislative committee on a 20-0 bipartisan vote. Other supporters include education officials in Santa Clara and Sutter counties.
Larry Powell, Fresno County schools superintendent, does not have a position, but urged caution, saying school districts have an image to protect.
"If they have clear protections so that no kids are around, I'd be less likely to oppose it," he said.