District recommends closing three schools, laying off 29 FTE

Delaine Fragnoli
Managing Editor

Plumas Unified School District outlined sweeping recommendations for school closures and faculty layoffs for the 2012-13 academic year at the school board meeting Wednesday, Jan. 11.

The district proposes closing Quincy Elementary School, Taylorsville Elementary School and Greenville High School, and reducing a number of bus routes. (See side-bar below)  The closures would result in layoffs for 29 full-time equivalent faculty positions.

According to the administration’s facilities budget study, the closures and cuts could save the district as much as $2.5 million a year, $1.9 million of which would come from the faculty layoffs. The figure does not include classified layoffs. The deep reductions would still leave the district in the red: the district is currently deficit spending at a rate of $4 million a year. At this rate, it will go through its $12 million reserve in three years.

—Consolidate the two Indian Valley elementary schools, Taylorsville and Greenville, into Greenville Elementary.
—Make Greenville Elementary a K – eight campus, with a self-contained seventh- and eighth-grade classroom.
—Close Greenville High School effective 2012-13 and bus nine – 12 students to Chester High School; or
—Create a dependent charter school in Indian Valley. This option depends on community action; parents of nine – 12 students would have to commit their children to this model for the 2012-13 school year.
—Reduce the Wolf Creek residential section of the Greenville-North Valley Road bus route.
—Reduce the Williams Valley residential section of the Greenville-North Valley Road bus route.
—Reduce the Pecks Valley residential area of the Greenville-North Valley Road bus route.
—Consolidate the two area elementary schools into Pioneer Elementary.
—Move the regional special education program, currently housed at Feather River College, to Pioneer Elementary.
This would require moving a portable building from either FRC or Almanor Alternative High School at an estimated cost of $100,000.
—Remove Canyon bus route.
—Remove residential part of Meadow Valley route.
Almanor Alternative High School has already moved onto the Chester High School campus, freeing up portables for use in Quincy.
—District should develop a long-term plan to consolidate Chester schools into a K – 12 complex.
—The PUSD board should open communication with Westwood schools to explore the possibility of one joint northern area high school.
Feather River Middle School and Jim Beckwourth Alternative High School have already moved to the Portola High School campus.
—Board should open communication with the Sierra-Plumas School District to discuss combining services to provide a more cost-effective model for students in Portola, Beckwourth and Loyalton.
—Add the A15 bus route to the Graeagle route.
—Remove the A23 bus route. Parents could bring their students to the park and ride.

For its part, the county office of education is looking at laying off 25 percent, or about five FTE, of its certificated workforce, mostly in career and technical education, for an estimated savings of $462,000.

Bruce Williams, the district’s human resources director, said faculty positions were figured according to the following staffing levels: 24:1 for grades K – one, 30:1 with a cap of 32:1 for grades two – six and 35:1 for grades nine – 12, with higher levels allowed for physical education and music. At these levels, the district can still offer all college prerequisites, Williams said.

Superintendent Glenn Harris conceded that the “pain” of the closures was “disproportionate,” and said that instead of asking, “‘How do we save our local schools?’ we should be asking, with the resources we have, ‘How do we maximize educational opportunities for our kids?’ When we ask that, a whole world opens up. We can’t get out of a box if we ask how to save our schools.”

The district’s recommendations are just one set of possibilities school board members will weigh before they make a final decision, expected in April.

Last month, the board heard from the district-appointed Facilities Advisory Committee. It has also received a report from an architectural firm that analyzed the two Quincy elementary sites.

Yet to weigh in are the board-appointed 7-11 committees for each community, so called because they have to have a minimum of seven members and a maximum of 11. The Indian Valley and Quincy 7-11 committees each held their first meetings last week, and were scheduled to meet again this week. The committee meetings are open to the public and must adhere to the Brown Act, California’s open meeting law.

The Indian Valley group meets Tuesday afternoons at 4 p.m. in the Greenville High School library.

The Quincy group will meet tonight, Jan. 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Quincy Elementary School library. The committee also plans several public forums, tentatively set for Thursday, Jan. 26, and Thursday, Feb. 2, at 6 p.m. A third forum is tentatively slated for 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4. All the forums, pending confirmation, will be at Quincy High School.

The 7-11 committees are due to make their recommendations to the board in March.

Two board members, Bret Cook, of Indian Valley, and Brad Baker, of Quincy, were absent from last week’s meeting.


Facilities report

Presentation of the facilities study took up the bulk of the PUSD meeting, which, combined with the Plumas County Office of Education meeting, stretched to 5-1/2 hours. Department directors went over the report, which covered risk management, accessibility, special education, heating and utility costs, transportation, fiscal operations and facility attributes at the various facilities.

The department heads were unanimous in recommending Pioneer El over Quincy El for its level site, better accessibility, better vehicle access, upgraded heating system, larger and more efficient kitchen, Reading Recovery classroom, existing water well, access of snow removal equipment to the playground, better technology capacity and overall larger site.

In the Indian Valley analysis, the district said a K – 12 in Greenville was a possibility, but there would not be enough enrollment, and therefore faculty, to offer all the required college prerequisites. The report concluded, “The reality is that the nine – 12 program would not provide a comprehensive high school education.”

Harris said a dependent charter school, operating under the auspices of the county office of education, was another possibility and that he would be bringing more information about that to the board at a later date.

Last month, Harris sent the independent Plumas Charter School (PCS) a Notice to Remedy, the first step in the charter revocation process. Janet Wolcott, director of PCS, told the board the school took the notice “very seriously” and was working with Harris to correct the perceived deficiencies. They were scheduled to meet last Friday afternoon. Wolcott said the board and Harris had a standing invitation to visit the school and observe its operations. “We appreciate and support the guidance of the district,” she said.

During their reports, several directors expressed an emotional attachment to particular sites. Williams said he had been a principal at Quincy El for 15 years and his four children had all graduated from the school. “I wish I could find a reason to recommend Quincy El, but as a district employee I have to recommend Pioneer.”

Alan Morrison, a sixth-grade teacher at Quincy Elementary School, commented at meeting’s end, “We’re looking at schools as if they were just facilities — windows, kitchens, boilers. But a school is more than that; it’s a community of students, teachers and community members.”


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