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School board backs Aguilar's outreach program

The Sunnyside City Council in the end wanted nothing to do with the community outreach program instigated by Councilwoman Bengie Aguilar. But at Thursday night's monthly meeting, the Sunnyside School Board was all for keeping the program going, even opting to expand the coverage area of the monthly meetings.

At the request of Sunnyside School District Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole, Aguilar, representing the Lower Yakima County Rural Enterprise Community (REC) Board of Directors, addressed the board last night about the outreach program.

Aguilar said the program is designed to bring city services to the community. Aguilar said the purpose of the program is to bridge the gap that exists in some areas of the community with such entities as the City of Sunnyside and the Sunnyside School District.

The Sunnyside City Council voted a few weeks back to discontinue support of the outreach program, withdrawing the services of city staff at each of the monthly meetings in designated areas of the community.

Prior to the Council opting out of the program, the city, REC, and the Sunnyside School District partnered to bring the monthly meetings to the public, which were also designed in part to give the public a place to voice concerns or ask questions.

"Our attendance kind of varied," said Aguilar.

The up-and-down numbers at each of the meetings had to do with where and when the gatherings were held, Aguilar told the school board.

Aguilar said that after each meeting she would talk with Sunnyside School District Executive Director of School and Community Resources Ruben Carrera and then Sunnyside City Manager Dave Fonfara to evaluate the outreach program and work on areas that needed improvement.

Her long-term goal with the outreach program is to promote neighborhood collaboration. One project Aguilar is working on right now, she told board members, is getting the Yakima County Auditor's Office involved with the monthly meetings to promote voting.

Cole asked Aguilar what the school district can do to be a more active participant in the outreach program. Aguilar encouraged a school board member to attend the meetings with Carrera.

While the city has backed out with its personnel and any financial support of the program, Police Chief Ed Radder will still be sending staff to the monthly meetings, Aguilar said. Aguilar said the meetings go along with some of the outreach efforts the police department is trying to do in the community.

The outreach program is currently being funded through REC funds, but Aguilar is working on obtaining a grant that would allow staff to be hired to continue the efforts.

Sunnyside School Board member Bill Smith encouraged Aguilar to set up meetings for all local school district patrons, as opposed to outreach meetings for just those neighborhoods within the Sunnyside city limits. Smith said the school district serves residents outside of the Sunnyside city limits and he would like to see the program boundaries include the entire Sunnyside School District service area.

The school board backed Aguilar's program and offered the services of the district informational telephone line, school newsletter and monthly newsletters to get the word out about the date of each outreach meeting.

. Mike Kantman can be contacted at (509) 837-4500, or email him at mkantman@eaglenewspapers.com

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