Are 7-11 committees tilting at windmills?

Jason TheobaldSchoolClz
Staff Writer


In a scene from his literary masterpiece, “Don Quixote,” Miguel de Cervantes depicts the eponymous main character, riding at breakneck speed on horseback, lance leveled for the attack, at windmills he’d mistaken for giants. The scene, while comical, is an allegory with a number of interpretations. The most common, however, is that of a battle that cannot be won or fighting an unbeatable foe.

Why am I talking about “Don Quixote” in my opinion piece? Simple. After attending the last five Chester area District Advisory or “7-11” Committee meetings, I find myself asking if the committee is fighting a battle that cannot be won.

For those of you that have not heard about the committees, or what it is they are tasked to do, let me summarize briefly. In each of the four communities, Portola, Chester, Indian Valley and Quincy, a 7-11 committee has been formed and tasked with formulating a recommendation to the Plumas Unified School District (PUSD) regarding proposed school closures and/or consolidations.

Yes, I said school closures and/or consolidations. The PUSD administration has proposed, due to a projected deficit in the coming years, to make drastic changes to the educational landscape of Plumas County.

Those changes, should the PUSD board of trustees choose to adopt the administration’s proposal, will begin next year with the closure of Greenville High School, the consolidation of the two elementary schools in Indian Valley, and the consolidation of the two elementary schools in Quincy. This is slated for the 2012-13 school year.

Phase two of the changes, ostensibly, would occur the following school year. In this phase, Chester Junior-Senior High School and Chester Elementary School would be consolidated to one site.

Phase three, if adopted and the student population dips enough to warrant this step, would have all high schools but Quincy High School closed and students bused to Quincy, diverted to magnet or charter schools, or educated using distance learning tools. Needless to say, it isn’t a pleasant picture for anyone to think about.

Let me be clear. I am in no way, shape or form trying to discount the work and the passion that all of the committee members have for their community and their schools. Undoubtedly, this can be said of every committee member of each of the four committees located throughout Plumas County.

They are, in my humble opinion, doing a fantastic job with a deplorable situation, and everyone needs to thank them profusely for their proactive volunteerism in the face of adversity.

Where my concern lies, and why I wonder if their hard work is in vain, stems from the document often referred to in the meetings, the Facility-Budget Study prepared by the Plumas County Office of Education administration for the PUSD board of trustees.

Anyone reading the document can see exactly where the administration stands, and what it wants to do in order to mitigate the purported budget deficit. The administration has made up its mind, and it put together a nice and tidy report that supports the recommendation.

Believing that the administration has already made up its mind, I have my doubts that the PUSD board of trustees would seriously consider alternatives to those recommendations.

What do I base this on? Besides a gut feeling, this is based on my own personal experiences. I cannot begin to count the number of board meetings (school and otherwise) I have sat in on or been a part of as a member. Rarely have I seen a board unequivocally disregard or not approve, at least in part, an action recommended by its superintendent, executive or director.

Could the PUSD board of trustees surprise me? Of course, and I certainly hope they do. The three-phase plan proposed by the administration is a flawed proposal based on financial projections, both in funding and expenditures, which are still so nebulous that I cannot fathom how or why this entire issue is even an issue this year.

Yes, I understand that the funding for Plumas County schools is down due to a downturn in property values countywide. Yes, I fully understand the difference between Basic Aid districts and Revenue Limit (ADA — Average Daily Attendance) districts, and I know the need for a reserve fund. Being part of the education community, I also know that the time is coming for some tough choices to be made.

What I don’t understand, however, is if the district is projecting a nearly $4 million deficit for the next school year, why are line items, like the $800,000 being put into the reserve fund (basically a rainy day savings account for the district) not on the table for discussion?

But more than that, what I don’t understand is why the administration jumped straight to school closures. Why, knowing how each community feels about its schools, did the administration propose to close schools without looking at alternatives that would leave the community intact? Why did the administration settle on its three-phase plan for its recommendation?

I don’t have these answers. I wish I did. But that brings me back to the topic of this rant. Are the committees titling at windmills? In regards to the PUSD board of trustees’ decision slated for April of this year, I think maybe they are. Though with the recent action taken by the PUSD staff at the last board meeting regarding the leadership of the administration, maybe the trustees will not weigh their recommendation quite so heavily. Maybe, just maybe, more teeth will be given to the recommendations of the 7-11 committees, who speak with the voice of their communities.

I’m just not convinced it will play out that way. To be sure, the trustees will listen politely to the 7-11 committee reports on March 28. They may even mull over the alternatives presented to them from those committees, but I still feel in the end that it will be for naught.

So then the question is, why were the committees formed? In my cynical way of thinking, committees were formed to show the public that “everything” had been done to avoid the unfortunate actions the board of trustees had to take in order to avert a financial disaster.

Am I wrong? I certainly hope so, but the cynic in me won’t admit that until the PUSD board of trustees proves me wrong. So … prove me wrong, please

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