Hinkley residents seeking lawsuit to save school

Jim Steinberg, Staff Writer for The Sun

HINKLEY – Residents in this High Desert town – angered that that their only school is set for closure – are recruiting signatures for a class-action lawsuit against the Barstow Unified School District to save the school.

“We are looking for people to sign up as plaintiffs in a lawsuit to keep the school open,” Danny Hernandez, said during a regularly scheduled meeting of the town’s Community Advisory Committee Thursday night.

Hernandez is a board member of the group, which represents Hinkley residents in discussions with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. and water regulators.

Hinkley’s water problems became well-known after the year 2000 movie “Erin Brockovich,” which told of Hinkley’s chromium 6 groundwater plume and Brockovich’s legal battle with PG&E, accusing the company of polluting the water.

Decades ago, PG&E used chromium 6 in cooling towers at its large natural gas pumping station in Hinkley. Periodically the water would be drained into unlined ponds, a common practice at that time, which allowed chromium 6 to seep into the community’s groundwater.

Since then, the town’s population has dwindled, and some have blamed the decreasing numbers for the school’s closure.

Several community members, after consulting with an attorney, said they believe that the school board violated procedures for school closings with its 4-1 decision Tuesday night to close the school, which opened in 1902.

The lawsuit would also seek to block the closing of Thompson Elementary School in Barstow.

Jon Quass, a former co-chair of the committee, asked that residents who are considering accepting a buyout from PG&E, “rethink your position” and stay in town.

Buyouts contributed to the school board’s decision to close the school because of its falling enrollment, he said.

Enrollment at virtually every school in the Barstow Unified School District has plummeted in recent years, school officials have said.

About 25 children have left Hinkley because of the buyouts since late 2010, said Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesman.

A man, who declined to give his name, passed out fliers about the prospect of opening a charter school on a site a few miles east of the current Hinkley school.

No one mentioned this possibility during the public meeting, which was held at the Hinkley school, as are many community meetings to discuss the community’s water pollution problems.

Mike Hayhurst, from the nearby Helendale School District, said that his district would be willing to send a bus to Hinkley, if parents from the community would want to send their children to the district’s charter school in the Silver Lakes community.

Barstow Unified School District Superintendent Jeff Malan said that the district will form a committee soon to look at what might be done with the Hinkley school.

The options include making it a magnet school, a charter school or selling it as surplus property.

In related news:

As a possible alternative to a newly developed whole household water filtration system, Sheryl Bilbrey, PG&E’s director of chromium remediation, said the company was looking at the possibility of bringing in a pipeline for Mojave River water or buying water for large tanks that would serve the community.

It was announced that the Hinkley Community Advisory Committee and Project Navigator, Ltd., a group of scientists who advise the committee, will be holding a community barbecue from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. on March 16. There will be free food, music and games.

Although the event has been planned for some time, the timing worked well to help the community bond after learning its school is set for closure, said Raudel Sanchez, a chemical engineer who works for Project Navigator on Hinkley issues.

“I’ve heard a lot of talk about plumes and pipes, but unless we can save this school, the town is gone,” said Nathan Roberts, 32, who has two children attending Hinkley school, just as he and his parents did.

Read more: http://www.sbsun.com/ci_22692032/group-seeking-parties-halt-closure-hinkleys-only-school#ixzz2MbCAdetV