Board of Education weighs valedictorian selection options, snow days and other issues

PUSD Board of Education President Leslie Edlund, left, administers the oath of office to Chester High School senior Madison VerPlanck on Sept. 20 as she is sworn in as the board’s newest student representative. Board member Dave Keller is seen in the background. Photo by Roni Java

Snow days, valedictorian options, financial updates and Greenville High School gym repairs were among the many agenda items considered at the Sept. 20 trustees’ meeting of the Plumas Unified School District.

Held in Chester, the meeting also provided an opportunity to swear in a new student representative to the board, Chester High School senior Madison VerPlanck.

CHS Principal Terry Hernandez introduced VerPlanck with praise for her accomplishments and student leadership. Board President Leslie Edlund swore the student in and welcomed the 12th-grader to her new responsibilities. Board members Jolene Cline, Dwight Pierson, Dave Keller and Traci Holt also congratulated VerPlanck for serving.

VerPlanck presented her first report, covering highlights and awards that Chester High had received over the last two years, including having been named among the best high schools in the country by U.S. News and World Report in 2017.

Valedictorian Options

District staff brought forward an information item to the board that outlined four options with regard to revising the school district’s policy for determining valedictorians and salutatorians at area high schools:

A. Keep the current district policy in place for determining valedictorian and salutatorian academic recognition at graduation.

B. Replace valedictorian and salutatorian designations with a tiered honor system based upon total GPA, essentially a gold-silver-bronze system.

C. Switch to a tiered honor system that keeps the language of valedictorian and salutatorian for tiers of academic achievement, and includes a designation for honor scholars.

D. Option C with an added disclaimer that if no student meets the valedictorian criteria in a given graduation year, the honor would go to the student with the highest GPA at the specific school and salutatorian to the student with the second-highest GPA.

Staff reaffirmed the goal of this effort is to honor more students at each of the district’s high schools.

Thanking staff for their work to develop the options, board members commented that they would like to see the issue back at a future meeting with input included from area principals, teachers and staff. It was acknowledged that one parent letter and an email have come in so far, both supporting keeping the district’s current policy. Trustees Edlund and Holt requested the addition of an option E to take into account the effect of AP honors classes.

“I don’t want to discourage kids from taking AP honors classes,” said Pierson, and Edlund asked student member VerPlanck for her thoughts about the issue. The senior told the board that many students would prefer to keep the valedictorian and salutatorian designations, with the addition of honor scholars as well, “instead of the gold-silver-bronze approach.”

Financial updates

Every year by Sept. 15, the Education Code requires school districts to close their books and adopt a report of financial activities and position for the preceding fiscal year. Lisa Cavin, PUSD associate superintendent for Business Services, presented the district’s unaudited actual financial report as the final step in closing the process for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

The board voted 5-0 to approve the report and was advised that reduced revenue and expenditures are expected in 2017-18. At the time of budget adoption, according to Cavin, PUSD projected approximately $1.9 million less in funding and approximately $2.6 million less in expenditures. These amounts are reflective of the general fund only, she explained, and do not include Measure B project expenditures.

In addition, Cavin clarified that without some major, one-time capital expenditures that took place in 2016-17, the district’s budget would have been balanced. And due to the passage of Measure B, PUSD will be better able to address facility needs without impacting funds available for instruction.

“So we are making progress,” said trustee Edlund, and Cavin agreed it was true.

“We go through these calculations regularly,” Cavin explained. “Our budget will change throughout the year — some things will go up, some things will go down.”

Cavin concluded that PUSD’s projections of revenue and expenditures have been closely aligned in recent years, and said, “We’re getting much better at projections.”

Snow days

Considering two drafts for school calendars covering the 2018-19 year, with input needed from the Plumas County Teachers Association, the board looked at snow days, Thanksgiving vacation, and spring break days.

Superintendent Terry Oestreich outlined the options for two potential snow days to be built into the school calendar and talked about structuring school breaks to include:

– A week for the Thanksgiving holiday, a Friday off before winter vacation, and a four-day weekend in February; or

– Three days at Thanksgiving and one week off in February.

Board members had a number of questions and Holt said the number-one complaint she hears from parents is that they don’t like a week off in February because it’s hard to arrange for childcare. Edlund concurred that she also hears this.

Pierson expressed concern about snow days potentially costing school sites days of instructional time. “There’s a cost,” he said. “We had a bad winter, I understand, but I’ve had a lot of input from the public about days of instruction lost.”

A Chester teacher in attendance commented, “Maybe we should look at the average use of snow days over the last 10 to 15 years? We have to think about how this impacts when we start and end the school year to accommodate it. I’ve heard from several teachers that with starting earlier in August or going later in June, classrooms in our district are 85 degrees inside. None of our classrooms are set up for air conditioning.”

The board directed staff to bring the issue back at a future meeting for further discussion with some historical data and possibly a third calendar option.

Greenville High School gym

When Oestreich gave her update on the Measure B project funding needed repairs at the Greenville High School gym, she reported, “We’re on schedule. Abatement and restoration work is continuing.”

Installation of the flooring may begin after materials are received, which might be Oct. 2, Oestreich said. Drainage and site repair work is scheduled to begin at the end of September, and may take approximately four weeks, depending on soil conditions and the water table.

Asked if the district has an estimate of when the gym work that is currently authorized might be completed, with the understanding that it is a construction project subject to changes and updates, Oestreich said, “At this point, we are anticipating it could be by the end of December. However, we would like everyone to understand that this is only our anticipated projection.”