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With the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the determination of school district revenues shifted from local jurisdictions to the State. From 1979 to 1982 school districts became more involved in the state legislative process. During those years, the larger school districts fared better in areas of both personnel and processes to influence legislative decisions, budget and finance than smaller districts. This clearly established a need for small districts to find a voice in California legislative and regulatory actions that affected their operations.

In January 1983, four district superintendents, meeting with Jim Murdoch of Murdoch, Mockler and Associates in Monterey, held the organizational meeting that led to the formation of the SSDA. The four attending superintendents, often referred to as the “Founding Fathers”, were Don Brann, Ray Edman, Dave Evans and Emerson Hall. The collective group felt “at least 100 districts and county offices would participate in the organization.” The Founding Fathers worked together to build the SSDA membership, programs and services.

In April of 1983 the organization began with 23 districts. By January 2006, over 500 districts and county offices of education were members. An additional 120 businesses had also become members. The SSDA small school district members represent over two-thirds of the small school districts in the state. Coincidentally, small school districts also make up two-thirds of all school districts in California. SSDA Associate members include businesses such as; BusWest, BYU Independent Study, Caldwell Flores Winters, Inc., Indoor Environmental Services, Roebbelen, TIAA-CREF, and a host of other businesses dedicated to supporting our districts.

The SSDA Executive Committee meeting in Fort Bragg on July 22-23, 1987 developed the original SSDA mission statement:

Provide Legislative Advocacy for small school districts and to also provide support services to superintendents and governing boards.

While the mission statement has seen some minor changes over the years, it essentially remains the same and has guided the organization's effectiveness throughout the years. The main focus for the SSDA's legislative advocacy is the creation and strengthening of support services and funding for small school district superintendents and district boards:

The mission of the Small School Districts’ Association is to provide assistance to small school district governing boards and superintendents through legislative advocacy, collaboration, professional development and support services.

In 1985, the SSDA management firm of Murdoch Mockler and Associates replaced SSDA's lobbyist Jim Murdoch, with David Walrath. In 1992, the firm became Murdoch, Walrath and Holmes. In 1999, the title of Part Time Executive Director was added to Dave Walrath’s responsibility as the Executive Committee attempted to improve services to small schools throughout the state.

In 2010, Debra Pearson became the part-time Executive Director. The Executive Committee's goal is to continue to provide legislative actions and innovative, practical programs to help small school districts save time, money and produce great results for youth.

The governing structure of the organization has always included leadership from superintendents representing regions throughout the state. The number of regions has varied. In 2005, eleven SSDA regions were established within the state. Each year the SSDA conducts an annual conference which brings together small school district superintendents and their governing boards from all over the state. Participants get access to timely information, programs and services benefiting small schools. The SSDA also hosts an annual New Superintendents Symposium and about six Regional Meetings throughout the state.

As is the case with successful organizations, it is the people with their skills, knowledge and competencies that provide for the accomplishments of the Small School Districts’ Association. Small school district administrators are dedicated to small schools and achieve big results! Academic outcomes of small school districts consistently exceed those produced by larger school districts. The SSDA is a true success story!