I have had the dubious privilege of watching school superintendent Glenn Harris operate for the last several years, not just as a reporter, but also as a parent, grandmother and representative of Plumas Charter School. The current situation comes as no surprise to me, he has been telegraphing his moves since late 2009.
Plumas Unified School District has real problems based on declining enrollment and a statewide budget crisis.
The district serves four population centers — Chester-Lake Almanor, Indian Valley, Quincy and Portola — separated by more than 20 miles of often-treacherous winter driving.
PUSD facilities date back to timber’s heyday, when multiple mills operated virtually nonstop in every community.
The district also received property taxes on forest holdings until the Great White Fathers in Washington, D.C., offered federal money in exchange for tax relief.
Like the treaties of old, they are in the process of defaulting on their promises. Apparently, the grass no longer grows, nor the waters run.
At the time, Indian Valley residents charged Harris with gutting Greenville High School programs to further diminish enrollment and bring about closure.
Harris responded that he was merely socking away money against some future rainy day; that we had to think about all of the district’s students, not just Indian Valley’s. So, while there were fewer classes offered at PUSD schools, he built the reserve to about 40 percent.
In the meantime, I took the district’s budget report to someone with K12 budget experience. That person is not now and never was a resident of Plumas County nor a school district or office of education employee — just someone I know with K12 budget experience.
I wrote a story in March 2010 based on that expert’s opinion: The district practices “cry wolf” budgeting. District officials inflate expense estimates to deliver a bleak forecast. Then, they sock away the unspent funds to build the reserves. All perfectly legal, just not particularly moral.
With the deft dexterity of a magician and the earnest demeanor of a con man, district officials have offered soothing words while moving the goal posts: We need to build a bigger reserve; distance/online learning will solve these problems; basic aid might go away …
However for those with eyes to see and ears to hear, the agenda has been clear from the start: downsize the district. We lulled ourselves into believing denials such as these:
“(School board chairman Brad) Baker said there were rumors flying around the community that he likened to the perennial rumors of a McDonald’s franchise opening in Quincy.
“‘There is no talk of Greenville High School (closing); there is no conspiracy. There is no talk of closing Greenville Elementary School; there is no intent not to support Greenville,’ Baker added.”
“‘I will tell you this right now,’ Harris began. ‘We have not had any conversation about closing Greenville, Portola, Quincy or Chester — not one.’” Feather Publishing, Feb. 17, 2011 editions.
All the same, here we are: talking about closing schools even before the 7-11 committees have reported to the board. It was where we were going all along: up the garden path.
Since he has been superintendent, Harris has systematically restricted community access to our schools, whether through eliminating sections or barring use to extracurricular community programs such as Footloose Studio of the Arts, the High Sierra Community Youth Orchestra or the Central Plumas parks and rec district.
Actions speak louder than words and Harris’ actions over the past few years have been screaming school closures. It just took him a bit to line up his ducks.
Whether or not Harris understands, our schools and our children are the heart of our community. Close them and you kill the community.
Make a point to contact every member of the school board; attend every district meeting; speak loudly, in words of one syllable: “Do not close our schools!”