School closure committee holds public forum
It is difficult, to say the least, to separate the issue of school closures and/or consolidations from emotions. In fact it may be impossible as the identities of the communities that stand to be affected, should the Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) move forward on the proposed plan presented by the PUSD administration, are directly linked to the schools in question.
In each of the four communities in Plumas County — Portola, Quincy, Indian Valley and Chester — an advisory committee, known as a 7-11 committee, has been formed. These committees owe their name to the legal mandate that such advisory committees have no fewer than seven members and no more than 11.
The charge of each of the committees is to review the recommendation proposed to the PUSD board of trustees, as well as other studies on the same subject matter, gather their own data and make a recommendation to the board regarding proposed closures or consolidations. Specifically, the committees are to look first at the proposed actions, if any, in their area, and then at the larger picture.
The Chester Area 7-11 Committee has been given six weeks to formulate its recommendation, which is to be presented at the March 28 PUSD board of trustees meeting in Greenville. To that end they have held three weekly meetings prior to the public forum held Sunday, Feb. 12, at 1 p.m. in the Chester Junior-Senior High School Library.
While all of the prior had been open to public comment, Sunday’s meeting was specifically intended to get the engage the Chester area public. Coincidently, many attending the meetings expressed their dismay that they were just now hearing about the possible consolidation and eventual closure of Chester area schools.
Many expressed frustration that something as important as the possibility of an area school closing had not been communicated more thoroughly to the public. As one audience member pointed out, however, now that they knew, they shared the responsibility to spread the word.
Impact on students
It could be said that students at Chester Junior-Senior High School felt equally as blindsided by the proposed changes to both their school and Greenville High School. In attendance at the Sunday meeting was at least one student who struggled with emotion as she relayed how she had just found out about the proposed changes to Chester schools.
As she spoke she expressed her frustration that little to no effort had gone into including students in the discussion, and her disappointment that the news hadn’t been relayed to them sooner.
Aaron Seandel, a former superintendent from the San Jose area, asked if the ramifications of the proposed changes on the students had been adequately addressed. The proposed changes, he noted, are structured in a three-phased approach. The first two phases to be conducted in concurrent years, and the third as the decline in student population warrants.
The phases Seandel refers to stem from the proposal presented to the PUSD board of trustees by the PUSD Administration, and are countywide.
Phase one would take place in the 2012-13 school year, and consolidate the two elementary schools in Quincy, as well as the two elementary schools in Indian Valley. Phase one would also include the closure of Greenville High School, and the busing of its students to Chester Junior-Senior High School.
Phase two calls for the consolidation of Chester area schools into a single K – 12 site. This phase is ostensibly slated for the 2013-14 school year, if the board moves forward with the administration’s recommendations.
Phase three does not have a proposed year, but calls for the possible closure of all outlying high schools (Chester, Portola and Greenville) leaving Quincy High School as the one high school in Plumas County. There are a number of logistical and education concerns that would need to be addressed, should this phase occur, but for now it remains the most nebulous of the three phases.
In regards to the phases, Seandel argued that it makes no sense, when looking at what is best for the students, to move them one year, then move them to a new situation the next year, and possibly change everything on them again if the student population warrants the third phase. If there is to be a change, he argued, make it all at once so that the students can adjust and move on. Don’t change everything on them, just to change it again.
Is there really a deficit?
The impetus for the proposed school closures, budget cuts and school consolidations stems from the projected budget deficit for the 2012-13 school year.
Attending the Sunday meeting was Plumas County District 5 Supervisor Jon Kennedy, who is also a member of the Portola 7-11 Committee. During the meeting he brought several budget discrepancies to light.
The proposed budget, Kennedy pointed out, has a line item that puts funds back into the district’s reserve fund. In essence, he says, the district, if it is truly predicting deficit spending in the next year, is taking money out of the reserve fund to put right back into the same fund. This, he claims, is just one example of how the deficit has been inflated to make the situation seem dire.
Additionally, he points to an example from the current school year that shows the over-inflating of the deficit. In the current year, he argues, the budget calls for $1.2 million in funds from the Secure Rural Schools Act, when in fact the district received closer to $1.8 million.
Kennedy said that the district, and indeed anyone who had bothered to look into the amount of money coming to the district from the act, knew the amount that would be coming to PUSD. While the Secure Rural Schools Act will sunset in the upcoming school year, for Kennedy, it is an example of numbers manipulation on the district’s part.
He acknowledges that there may very well be a deficit, but he doesn’t believe that the numbers are as severe as the district is claiming. Coupled with the district’s reserve fund, he doesn’t understand why everything is being pushed through with such rapidity. If changes need to be made, he argued, take the time to make the right decision with the real numbers.