About half of California's 1,000 school districts have fewer than a thousand students.
These mostly rural school systems may be small in stature, but they have a larger voice in Sacramento and among their fellow educators.
The Small School Districts Association was formed 30 years ago, and 12 school districts in Merced County belong to the group, which holds periodic meetings, workshops and webinars.
Helio Brasil, Merced River School District superintendent, said the Small School Districts Association advocates for the smaller school districts to make sure they get a fair shake. His district has two schools, the Hopeton and Washington campuses, with 176 kindergarten through eighth-grade pupils.
Brasil represents Alameda, Contra Costa, San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties on the association's executive board.
He has been an association member since 2005 and said the group was instrumental in saving state funds for school bus transportation from being cut last year by Gov. Jerry Brown.
Smaller school districts couldn't provide staff development on their own but by sharing services and financial resources, a speaker or trainer can be brought in for workshops, Brasil said.
Andres Zamora, Livingston Union School District superintendent, represents Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tuolumne and Tulare counties on the association's executive board.
"The SSDA is dedicated to obtaining great support services and favorable legislation for our small school district members and associates," Zamora said. "Our job is to help simplify the work that small school district boards of education and superintendents must do to produce stellar results for their students and their staff."
Dr. Steve E. Gomes, Merced County superintendent of schools, thinks the Small School Districts Association is a valuable group because it makes sure the little systems aren't forgotten by the state Legislature or state Department of Education.
When he was the Planada school superintendent, he was involved with the association.
"What people don't realize is that the majority of school districts in California are small schools," Gomes said. "A large area of Northern California doesn't have a lot of kids, but they have some special needs that big districts don't have."
Association members in Merced County include the Atwater, Ballico-Cressey, Delhi, El Nido, Gustine, Hilmar, Le Grand elementary and high school, Livingston, McSwain, Merced River and Planada school districts.
"They provide some equity so small school districts aren't left behind," Gomes said. "There are a lot of issues that people forget about. They don't have the resources to hire consultants."
The local association held a Dec. 8 workshop at the Merced County Office of Education for trustees and superintendents.
Twenty-six people attended the all-day Saturday session, which covered establishing positive relationships with staff, the community and fellow trustees; the Brown Act open meetings law; the role of trustees in collective bargaining; effective board meetings; and working with the superintendent.
Brasil said smaller school districts typically have more parent support than larger systems.
Zamora said Livingston parents are very engaged in school events and that the smaller size can be an advantage.
The Sacramento-based small schools association sponsors legislation, provides networking opportunities and has symposiums for new superintendents. Special workshops are held on the governor's budget, retirement planning, special education, pension reform and state mandates.
Reporter Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or firstname.lastname@example.org.