Closure committee discuses layoffs, surveys, triggers
“The community has been amazing and really stepped up to the plate,” said Chester area 7-11 Committee Chairwoman Traci Holt, and while the wintry weather might have kept some people from attending the Feb. 29 meeting, it did not keep those in attendance from discussing recent developments and issues.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, the layoff notices to full-time staff members, recently approved by the Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) board of trustees, dominated the discussion.
When asked why the PUSD board moved forward with teacher layoff notices before receiving the 7-11 committee reports, Holt answered that the board members moved forward with the notices in order to keep their options open in the event that they chose to go the route of closures and/or consolidations, which would entail staff layoffs. The board took action at its Feb. 22 meeting in order to meet the state deadline, March 15, for such notices to go out.
Chester Junior-Senior High School (CHS) staff member Shawn Mahaffey clarified that the notices are meant to alert staff members to the possibility of being laid off. There are a number of steps, both from the administration and the teachers union that must occur before formal layoffs could proceed.
CHS Principal Scott Cory added that every principal in the district had received notices of possible relocation and/or layoffs. In the 13 years he has worked for PUSD, Cory said that he has never seen a blanket notice sent to all principals.
According to Cory, in the worst-case scenario, should the district terminate the 32.5 full-time employees who received notice, the ripple effect would actually affect up to 70 employees, not just the ones losing their jobs, but also the ones that would be relocated due to seniority. Cory said that for Chester 18 staff members received notice, and that he had spoken to each already.
When asked if principals would be shuffled based on seniority as well, Cory answered that although he was the seniormost principal in the district, administrators did not operate under seniority.
The charter option
At the Feb. 22 PUSD board of trustees meeting, the board agreed to provide the 7-11 committees with an outside charter school expert so that all the committees could learn about the options available through charter schools. At the Feb. 29 Chester 7-11 meeting, Guy McNett, a representative from the Indian Valley 7-11 Committee, reported that his committee had received information that a meeting with a charter expert was scheduled for Monday, March 5. McNett indicated that the chairperson of the Indian Valley committee had sent the information to Holt via email.
Holt had not received the information regarding the meeting, but expressed concern over the proposed meeting. Her understanding, after the PUSD meeting Feb. 22, was that the four chairpeople of the 7-11 committees would be responsible, or at the very least, have a hand in selecting the charter school expert.
Holt, however, had no part in the selection, or in setting the date of the meeting. Members of the audience asked if they would be allowed to attend the meeting, a question Holt couldn’t answer with certainty, as she knew nothing about it.
The fact that Holt had nothing to do with the selection of the charter school expert led many in the audience to wonder if the selection had been made by Superintendent Glenn Harris, without the consultation of any of the 7-11 chairpeople.
Former San Jose area Superintendent Aaron Seandel responded that the audience and committee might have overreacted to the selection of the charter expert.
“Don’t lose any sleep over not selecting the consultant.” Seandel said, adding that the charter school expert would likely be objective in giving his/her opinion about charter schools and the situation.
With regards to the possibility of a charter school, Mahaffey said that he was concerned that a charter school expert familiar only with urban school settings would be unable to properly assess the impact of a charter school in a rural community. For Mahaffey, any charter school expert speaking to the PUSD 7-11 committees should have experience in rural schools, which would include social dynamics, and even the impact on athletics.
Holt added that the March 5 date would be too soon to pull a meeting together, and that she would look for the information emailed to her from the Indian Valley chairperson. By the end of the meeting it was unclear whether or not a charter expert would appear, or if the meeting would happen.
The budget workshop hosted by the PUSD board of trustees, according to subcommittee member Wesley Maston, was beneficial in understanding the district’s budget, but he still didn’t understand why line expense items, like the 5000 series, had in some cases millions of dollars allotted to them.
Holt said that clarification on the district’s spending was one of the things she had asked for at the Feb. 22 meeting, but that she had yet to see such clarifications.
Cory said that he would request a breakdown, line by line, of the 5000 series from PUSD Business Director Yvonne Bales and provide it to the committee as soon as he received it.
Another troubling thing for Maston was the operating loss of over $260,000 in the PUSD food service program. Of that amount, over $59,000 is made up from the General Fund.
Gina Pixler, a member of the facilities subcommittee and a teacher at CHS, said that the subcommittee had been looking at what the student population would have to be in order for Chester schools to face possible consolidation. In addition to that, the subcommittee was looking at two possible scenarios should the worst come to pass and Chester schools be forced to consolidate.
At the Feb. 22 meeting, it was reported that the PUSD administrative cabinet assumed a student population trigger of 260 students in order to initiate consolidation to a K-12 single site school in each of the communities.
Currently the combined student population of the Chester schools is in excess of 400. Pixler said that the subcommittee, in the case of Chester schools, is looking to recommend 200 combined students as the trigger point. This owes largely to the number of students that could be reasonably accommodated at either site should a consolidation occur.
Some of Pixler’s students are taking an active role in the subcommittee’s research. They are actively measuring seating capacity in each Chester area classroom. In addition, they are comparing the seating capacity to California Department of Education (CDE) guidelines regarding required square footage per student.
At the last Chester 7-11 meeting, Pixler had said that with the current student population in Chester, consolidating to a single site would not be feasible. There simply wouldn’t be enough room.
The second part of the subcommittee’s research centered around two possible options should the student population drop to whatever trigger point is decided on by the board of trustees.
The first option being looked at for possible recommendation is keeping both the elementary and high school open, but closing off hallways and wings in order to save on utilities. This would include possibly utilizing existing portables, and the construction of doors and walls to cordon off the designated wings.
The second option would be a single site, though the look and feel of that school is still being looked into. Pixler said that schedules would have to be adjusted in order to keep elementary and high school students as separated as possible. In addition, she said, many of the classes would be split, meaning multiple grade levels in each class, and that such a school may have fewer than 10 total teachers.
Those scenarios aside, the subcommittee is proactively exploring ways to cut costs at the Chester schools so that they may postpone any drastic changes as long as possible.
Again with the help of Pixler’s students, the subcommittee is looking into replacing faulty latches on windows in order to make the heating of the school more efficient. Reducing the garbage pickups by one day would also save a considerable amount, according to Pixler, and her students are pushing for more recycling in the school in order to reduce trash.
The results of the communications subcommittee survey have been tabulated. In total, 291 people took the survey, most through an online survey program called “SurveyMonkey.”
Of the 291 respondents, the largest percentage of participants identified themselves as property owners (38.5 percent) or community members (37.8 percent). Parents of current K-12 students were the third highest response rate at 31.4 percent, and current students were fourth at 23.7 percent.
Most telling among the survey results are the questions dealing with school priorities, sales tax and busing students to Quincy.
Priorities: 78.1 percent of respondents indicated that their top priority for Chester area schools is a high school that meets college entrance requirements. The entrance requirements, called A-G requirements, are the criteria established by the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) system, that students enrolling must meet in order to be eligible for admittance. For a high school to be A-G compliant, it must provide the classes required by the UC/CSU system, and have those classes approved by that same system.
Second on the priority scale, at 25.4 percent, respondents indicated that athletics should be prioritized as well.
Sales tax: 79.3 percent of respondents indicated that they would support a sales tax increase of up to 1 percent, provided that there were guarantees in place that the money went to fund the schools.
Busing: Last, in the case of the possible consolidation of all area high schools into a single, central location in Quincy, 78 percent of respondents said that they would seek other educational opportunities for their children rather than bus them to Quincy. An additional 12.8 percent said that they also would not bus their students, but listed their students’ participation in school athletics, and their inability to pick them up from practice as the reason for refusing to bus.
Between the two answers, over 90 percent of respondents to the survey would refuse busing of their students to a centralized high school in Quincy.