Marathon school board meeting raises questions
Sylvia Wood, left, president of Pioneer-Quincy Elementary School’s student council, addresses Plumas Unified School District board members. Wood is striving to get hot water in the school’s bathrooms to promote handwashing. Jessica Linford, PUSD food services program manager, and Cody Reed, Quincy’s Digging In program manager, listen intently. Photo by Laura Beaton
A 3-1/2-hour closed session at the Feb. 7 school board meeting resulted in no action taken. Listed on the closed session agenda were two items regarding public employment and one for existing litigation.
Another personnel item, this one regarding coaching positions, was moved from the consent item portion of the agenda to the closed session.
During the public comment period at the start of the meeting, Frank Carey, head custodian at Pioneer-Quincy Elementary School, addressed the board “as a parent,” and read a letter of support for JV basketball coach Michael Woodlee.
Carey praised Woodlee for being a great communicator, teaching true teamwork and compassion and giving every player on the team a chance to play. Carey said his son, who plays on the JV team, has learned a lot from Woodlee about basketball and about being a good person.
Quincy sixth-grader Sylvia Wood was the first public speaker. She told the board about the need for hot water in the bathrooms at PQES.
Wood began her speech with the acknowledgement of it being flu season and the necessity of washing one’s hands to help prevent the spread of germs.
Wood told the board about her survey of students, which determined that about half of them washed their hands in the icy tap water.
She said that washing in cold water does not effectively kill germs, and it is also hard to keep your hands in water as icy as the school’s.
Superintendent Micheline Miglis responded to Wood with an update on the hot water issue, which maintenance supervisor David Putnam is aware of and working on.
Miglis said there are electrical constraints that prevent the simple solution of installing under-sink hot water heaters.
She assured Wood and the board that the problem was very important and the district is pursuing a workable solution.
School site food service
A community partnership with Quincy Natural Foods Cooperative and the Digging In program, sponsored by Women’s Mountain Passages, has led to schoolchildren eating more fresh fruits and vegetables, according to Jessica Linford, food service program manager.
Linford gave a presentation enumerating the food services provided to all Plumas Unified School District schools.
Fresh and healthy breakfasts and lunches are now prepared and provided at each school site.
Meals are based on the new “My Plate” guidelines, which replace the old food pyramid.
My Plate nutritional recommendations include eating fruits and vegetables that constitute 50 percent of one’s daily food intake.
Salad bars; free, fresh drinking water; whole grains; and food made from scratch are all part of the district’s food service program.
Linford reported that kids have come to love the fresh food, and the new program greatly eliminates packaging waste. She acknowledged that the cost is about 6 cents more per meal than the federal government will reimburse.
Jamie Huynh added to Linford’s presentation with a description of the “Eat a Rainbow” program that QNFC has recently subcontracted to the Digging In organization.
Classroom visits by knowledgeable staff, field trips to the co-op and school gardening programs all help children to understand and appreciate the importance of where their food comes from.
Miglis told Linford and Huynh she would be their biggest advocate. She said she recently attended an event with state Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson, who is promoting an initiative “on the skirt tails of Michelle Obama (and her efforts to reduce childhood obesity).”
Miglis told Torlakson about the district’s food service operations and community partnerships and received positive response. “Perhaps we might be visited or invited to visit,” she told the board.
Transition coordinator Gwen Meinhardt presented the second quarter report on the partnership between Greenville High and Plumas Charter School’s Indian Valley Academy.
“The goal of the partnership is to provide a fiscally sound, student centered, high quality Jr./Sr. High education in Indian Valley,” Meinhardt wrote in her report.
She said that many communication and operational systems between the two schools are in place and running smoothly, and now they are working to improve things.
Meinhardt likened herself to a marriage counselor for two people in a prearranged marriage.
In another colorful analogy, Meinhardt compared the school partnership to “a 6-foot tall and 4-foot tall team running a 3-legged race. As long as we are running in the same direction we will move forward, albeit uncomfortable at times.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge Meinhardt addressed is the issue of drugs. Although never stating exactly which drugs are a problem, Meinhardt talked about families legally growing marijuana.
“We’ve got drug issues,” Meinhardt acknowledged. She said teachers from both schools recognize the problem and say it is a “Greenville thing.”
Board president Chris Russell spoke up and said it was more than just Greenville, that all schools face the drug issue.
Meinhardt said that by the end of next quarter, she should have survey results from teachers, students and the community. The results will be the springboard for discussion at a “Partnership Think Tank Meeting,” as yet unscheduled.
Teacher layoff notices
Assistant superintendent Bruce Williams presented a 2013 recommended certificated staff layoff timeline to the board.
At this point, Williams said, it appears that the district will have to lay off approximately 15 teachers districtwide. (It is unknown how many teachers will retire at this point.)
California School Employees Association president Ron Logan and treasurer Michele Hinrichs attended the meeting on behalf of PUSD members.
Logan’s response to the proposed layoffs was to ask the board to consider no layoffs. He said a layoff notice “is like a punch in the gut — not only to the teacher, but to everyone.”
“You can only pull strings so tight before they break,” he said after enumerating many hardships that teachers have faced in the past six years, including just a 1 percent increase in the salary schedule.
Logan said teachers now have more students and teach more subjects, necessitating more time to prepare lessons and grade student work.
In the elementary schools, there are more split classes and no aides. In many cases, Logan said, this means teaching more than two grade levels, after individual student achievement is taken into account.
Logan told the board that the district has a big reserve and that previous retirements and layoffs have saved about a million dollars. He said he has struggled to understand the district’s budget shortfall of $2 million and still doesn’t see it.
“How can the district keep asking more of the teachers?’ Logan asked the board.
Russell invited CSEA reps to attend the upcoming board budget workshops. He said the board, too, needs to understand the budget before members can approve layoffs and other budgetary actions.
Miglis said the austerity committee presented its report, which must now be reviewed and presented to the board at the Feb. 23 budget workshop.
It appeared that Miglis thought it would be better that the board conduct its workshop without extra people present. She said she certainly wanted to share information and perhaps other meetings could be set up to that end.
The next board meeting will be held at Indian Valley Elementary School on March 7 at 5 p.m.