Not so fast...Let School Superintendent do his job

Bill Wickman
Former School Board Member

    After reading the latest editorial, “The handwriting is on the wall — but it’s not too late to act,” I want to take the opportunity to comment as well as provide some recent past history that continues to carry on today. I was a school board member from 1990 through 1997.

    During that period, PUSD and the county schools went through the first drastic budget cuts that seemed to signal the start of such issues. It was also this same time that many in the county felt that it would be best to separate the two superintendent positions that, like now, had been held by a single individual.

    The budget cuts that occurred in the 1993 – 94 time were in the $3 million range and had a profound effect on the schools. There were reductions in programs, layoffs in both the certificated and classified staff as well as administration.

    Sports were already being asked to reduce the number of funded programs and the sports that were cut had to come up with their own funding to be maintained.

    There were public meetings held in each community to try and convey the magnitude of the problem. I specifically remember the meeting in Greenville that was held in the high school gymnasium. The superintendent at the time tried to explain the issues and reductions and possible outcome if the governing board and district administration did not take proper action.

    What sticks with me to this day is that this meeting was not the type of meeting where the audience wanted to take the opportunity to have problem solving discussions. Instead, the majority of the comments and remarks that were provided were caustic and inflammatory.

    The outcome of all of those meetings and governing board action was to try and maintain as many programs and staff as possible. The downside was a budget that could not meet the state minimum requirements.

    As a result, a state official was sent in to oversee all actions taken by the district administration and governing board. At that point, no one in the district administration or on the governing board had any authority to take any action that had a fiscal impact. All local control was lost.

    Is today’s situation any different? Some would argue it is because the superintendent and governing board are not listening to all the needs and voiced concerns from Greenville and other communities. Some will say it is not the same because there is a large reserve that was not available during the period discussed above.

    I say that the biggest difference is that the superintendent and governing board are listening and trying to provide what is reasonable given the current and near future financial issues.

    The state continues to reduce school funding. In addition, during the 1990s, the school district still had the luxury of healthy 25 percent revenue funding from the Forest Service. At that point in time, the Plumas County schools and roads were receiving an average of $6 million per year.

    There have been articles and discussion over the continued Secure Rural Schools (SRS) funds that are reduced by 10 percent each fiscal year since 2008, and the looming disaster that will occur in 2012, when SRS is due to go away completely. At that point, the school district faces the real possibility of having a minuscule amount provided from the 25 percent revenue funds because of the continued reductions in the Forest Service timber program.

    The figures are available to illustrate how vulnerable PUSD is to continued reductions in this historic budgetary stimulus from those 25 percent revenues. It would only confuse many to include those figures in this article.

    The important point is to realize the superintendent and governing board are acting responsibly by not draining the existing reserves and risk another state takeover of all our schools and programs.

    Lastly, I would like to add some clarity to the comment, “It’s not too late to do a write-in campaign” to separate the two offices of superintendence of schools.

    During the same early 1990 time period, this same dissatisfaction over one person holding both roles occurred. A vote was held and, lo and behold, Plumas County did indeed have two superintendents. The campaign promise of the candidate at the time was to run the Plumas County Office of Education separately, economically and provide the communities what they wanted.

    What really happened? Yes, as the editorial states, the district superintendent “reports” to the county superintendent. However, they have separate authorities and “reporting” is all that is done.

    The schools, majority of programs and staff are still under the leadership and direction of the district superintendent and school board. What occurred and would occur again is that a second empire was built. The county superintendent slowly increased his salary, he hired an assistant superintendent, had his own administrative assistant and director of business.

    In all, that additional, unnecessary second superintendent added nothing to programs and staff. It did cost the Plumas County schools, programs and staff a conservative $150,000-$200,000 (not including retirement and benefits) per year that could have been going back into those areas of concern. So beware of what you ask when you conspire to lead voters into a write-in campaign.

    Emotions at meetings normally can run rampant during trying times, but all parties need to stay as calm and rational as possible if all sides are to work together and not be defensive.

    To attend meetings and lose control, make derogatory remarks and accusations only leads to the appearance of not having opportunities for constructive discussions and solutions. Might it be a wiser decision to try and lead an effort to work with the school board, superintendent and communities more closely to solve our common and often misunderstood issues?

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