Concern expressed over school district cuts
Impassioned pleas during the public comment portion of the Plumas Unified School District’s regular board meeting March 7 appeared to do little to sway the board’s budgetary mind.
Two speakers asked the board to reconsider proposed layoffs. The reduction of an elementary school principal position in Greenville, already a half-time position, was Indian Valley 7-11 committee member Lisa Smith’s concern.
She questioned the fact that Greenville’s half-time principal serves 164 students, while Chester Elementary, with 179 students, has a full-time principal.
Smith also praised science teacher Travis Rubke, both her and her kids’ favorite teacher, whom she said is leaving.
Later in the meeting the board approved a 0.5 full-time equivalent elementary principal reduction, though it did not specify a school site. An additional 1.33 reduction in administrator FTEs was approved for junior and senior high school vice principals.
A 1.5 FTE grade seven – 12 science teacher reduction is part of the entire package, Resolution 1375, of 20.83 FTE reductions that the board approved around 11:30 p.m. after its second closed session. The resolution, agenda, minutes and backup documents may be found at pcoe.k12.ca.us.
Theater, drama programs
James Shipp spoke about the importance of theater programs and drama in the schools, which were inspirational to him as a Quincy High School student.
Shipp, a frequent performer in local theater, said the drama program is an important outlet for students who don’t play sports.
He said the drama program teaches participants team-building and public-speaking skills, fulfills fine arts curriculum requirements and offers friendship opportunities for non-athletes.
Shipp is the Association for Concerned Theatregoers coordinator and A.C.T. dinner theater director. He told the board that A.C.T. wants to work with the district to enhance its drama program and provide scholarships for students and other funding to “bridge the (performing arts) gap in all schools.”
Charter school at Pioneer
Colleen Banchio, 19-year veteran teacher in Indian Valley and former school board member for seven years, expressed her concern that Indian Valley schools have outdated, malfunctioning desks, chairs and other furnishings.
She wants to know if the furnishings in the Pioneer school are better than what the Indian Valley schools are using now, and if so, she would like the district to switch out that equipment before Plumas Charter School begins leasing Pioneer this summer.
Banchio also said she wants the district to consider the costs it incurs by maintaining the heating and electrical systems while the charter school is leasing the building.
Later in the meeting, assistant superintendent Bruce Williams presented the board with the facilities use proposal from the district to the charter school for the use of approximately one-third of Pioneer school.
The one-year agreement comes with the caveat that the actual expenses incurred by the district during the charter school’s lease will be analyzed and, if necessary, recalculated according to the district’s actual 2013-14 costs.
Banchio also asked the board to conduct a cost-savings analysis for reducing the school year by one week. She said teachers would face a 2.8 percent reduction in earnings, but a corresponding reduction in workload as well as the possibility of retaining class sizes and adding fewer tasks for teachers.
Williams presented a slide show on the district’s “certificated reduction in force.” He broke down the reductions by fund and category.
It incorporated eight full-time equivalent supplemental employee retirement plan retirees, one FTE resignation, 2.83 FTEs temporary employee releases, and 0.5 FTE reduced workload for a total of 12.33 FTEs anticipated attrition.
With the adoption of Resolution 1375 to dismiss 20.83 FTEs, weighed against the anticipated attrition, Williams explained that layoff notices for 7.5 FTEs would be sent out.
He further explained that since some of those positions are part-time, 10 certificated employees would receive layoff notices.
Williams did not include a closed session personnel action taken by the board to non-reelect a public employee. On Monday, March 11, Feather Publishing learned that Quincy High principal Sue Segura was the employee non-reelected.
Superintendent Micheline Miglis then shared her recommendations regarding certificated staffing for 2013-14.
She said she took this recommendation with sincere heaviness, that it was a necessary step.
“Nevertheless, due to ed code and the need to inform individuals sooner rather than later,” she recommended, “with heaviness,” that the board approve the resolution.
Plea for no teacher layoffs
Plumas County Teachers Association president Ron Logan sat through two closed sessions as well as normal board business for about six hours before standing up to represent his fellow teachers and address Resolution 1375: intent to dismiss certificated employees.
Logan’s patience and respectful communication belied the many, many hours of negotiations, frustration and increasing stress over the state of teachers’ workloads, diminishing resources and morale and, most importantly, student needs.
Logan told the board of the struggles of teachers to provide quality instruction to students under increasingly demanding circumstances: fewer resources, bigger classes, split grade level classes at elementary schools and increased teacher duties and responsibilities.
Meanwhile, Logan said, the district is sitting on a $7 million reserve, even after the austerity committee and superintendent recommended and the board approved cuts of more than $3 million over the next three years.
“Seven million dollars is 14 times more than FCMAT (Fiscal Crisis & Management Assistance Team) recommended,” Logan said, “and 10 times more than the state’s 3 percent mandatory reserve.”
Logan reminded the board that the FCMAT report gave the district two recommendations to reduce the minimum reserve.
Some years ago, the district established $12 million as its minimum fund balance (Quick Facts worksheet distributed to the board March 7).
Logan said FCMAT recommended the district adjust its minimum reserve. “What is the reserve for?” Logan asked, and suggested that now is the time to use some of it.
“Are we cheating today’s students out of an education? Is this a downward spiral?
“Teachers will be doing more, students will be getting less. Education is a people business,” Logan said. “PUSD spent 77 percent of its total budget last year on salaries and benefits. Most districts spend 90 percent or more.
“This district is far too concerned about finances,” Logan summed up.
It was nearly 11:30 p.m. when governing board president Chris Russell asked the board if there were any questions. He was answered with silence.
Russell asked for a motion to accept Resolution 1375. After a long pause, board member Sonja Anderson spoke up.
“This is not easy. With a very, very heavy heart, I make a motion to accept the resolution.” The motion was seconded.
Board member Bob Tuerck said, “Mr. Logan’s speech did not fall on deaf ears. The board is taking its fiduciary duty very seriously. It is my sincere hope that we can work together to lessen that final impact in May.”
Next month’s agenda will include a discussion on the district’s minimum fund balance policy. The meeting will be held at the Chester High School library May 2, at 5 p.m.