School closure process begins; Board adopts timeline, appoints committee members
The Plumas Unified School District governing board formally launched the school closure process at its meeting Tuesday, Dec. 13. The board created three school consolidation committees and appointed members. The board also adopted a timeline for facility review, considered best practices for school consolidation and heard recommendations from an advisory committee.
The district is looking at closing or consolidating schools to reduce expenses in the face of declining enrollment and budget cuts. The latest budget numbers put PUSD’s
Bret Cook (non-voting school board representative)
Chris Russell (non-voting school board representative)
Brad Baker (non-voting school board representative)
enrollment at close to 2,000 students, sprinkled among 10 facilities. The district’s current budget includes nearly $4 million in deficit spending.
According to the adopted timeline, the consolidation committees are expected to present their final reports and recommendations to the board at its March meeting. The board is due to announce its decision in mid-April. Closures could go into effect by the 2012-13 school year.
Board member Bob Tuerck acknowledged that the timeline was “tight” and the board was not giving itself much time.
“I’d rather give the time to the committees,” board member Bret Cook said.
The board added a progress letter, to go out to parents after the January board meeting, to the proposed timeline.
Tuerck expressed concern that parents not “panic” and that the letters not disrupt the process. “We don’t want participation to die off because people think (closures) are already decided.”
Cook and board member Brad Baker pushed for as early notification as possible. Baker said notifications should go out sooner rather than later and letters should be “properly phrased” to avoid giving the impression that decisions had already been made.
Superintendent Glenn Harris said he would bring a draft letter to the board in January.
The board then turned its attention to appointing members to the consolidation advisory committees, often referred to as 7-11 committees because they have to have a minimum of seven members but no more than 11.
Board members discussed whether they should serve on the committees. Harris said at least one board member, but no more than two, should serve on each committee. Cook pointed out that the California Department of Education’s best practices, which Harris earlier provided to the board, recommended that board members not serve on the committees. “I think you should have a member,” said Harris. “That’s my recommendation.”
The board decided that one member would serve on each committee in a non-voting “observatory” role. “We don’t want our vote to influence the committee,” Cook said. “We would be voting twice (once on the committee and once at the board level).” Tuerck agreed, and Baker said that was “fine by me.”
Tuerck said he felt a little reluctance about district employees serving on the committees, although their knowledge “might be beneficial.”
Cook noted that the best practices recommended a cross-section of members, including teachers and administrators.
Board member Sonja Anderson said she wanted to see people who “could see the forest for the trees” and who “did not have their own agenda.”
Chester had just two applicants so the board could not form a committee for that area. Chester High School principal Scott Cory vowed to the board that he would be back next month with a full roster of candidates.
Indian Valley had the most applicants at 16, all of whom Cook said were “excellent” candidates. He said he was looking for balance, including Greenville and Taylorsville representation. (See sidebar for appointees.)
Eleven applicants expressed an interest in serving on the Quincy committee. Since Terry Oestreich had also applied for Portola’s committee, she was eliminated from the Quincy list.
All seven Portola applicants, including Oestreich, were approved.
According to the state Department of Education, these committees are subject to the Brown Act, so their meetings will be open to the public.
In a related item, the board heard recommendations from the PUSD Facilities Advisory Committee (FAC). This is a separate entity from the just-appointed 7-11 committees.
The 15-member FAC, made up of community members, teachers and administrators, met 12 times over the past 12 months to formulate recommendations on how the district could repurpose its facilities. Members considered closing schools, combining schools, modernizing, cutting costs and selling district property.
The committee made several recommendations to the board. The first was that the board should adopt the three-phase model the committee designed:
Phase I: two schools, one elementary and one high school, within each high-school attendance area.
Phase II: local one-school option (K – 12); could be K – 12 at one facility or an integrated nine – 12 dependent charter school as part of K – 12 school.
Phase III: elementary school within each geographic area with centralized high school/s. A centralized high school is one that would serve more than one geographic area. District would provide transportation. Offering a hybrid/dependent-independent charter school serving grades nine – 12 would be an option.
The committee noted that different areas of the county could be in different phases simultaneously.
The committee’s second recommendation was that the board should recognize that all geographical areas are in the first phase for the beginning of the 2012-13 school year.
The third recommendation was broken down into geographical areas:
—In Indian Valley, consolidate Taylorsville Elementary School into Greenville Elementary School.
—In Quincy, consolidate Pioneer Elementary School into Quincy Elementary School.
—In Chester and Portola, implement cost-cutting measures, which could include mothballing or selling unoccupied buildings.
Guy McNett, a member of the committee, told the board, “You have a $3.8 million deficit — that’s huge. Only a small portion of that can be addressed by facilities. Eighty percent of your budget is personnel.”
He said the committee estimated that consolidating the two Indian Valley elementary schools would save about $100,000.
The recommendation to consolidate Pioneer Elementary School into Quincy Elementary School was notable because an earlier architectural study recommended exactly the opposite course of action — that Quincy be incorporated into Pioneer.
Member Dan Brandes explained how the committee reached its different conclusion. The committee felt Quincy had a better location, a more functional multi-purpose room and could accommodate a larger student body. The committee disagreed with the architects about which site would be more cost effective to renovate and operate.
Superintendent Harris said he would present the administration’s consolidation recommendations at the January board meeting. He noted that this committee was focused on facility expenses, but the district would also take into consideration personnel and other costs of consolidation. Harris called the committee’s phased approach “very helpful.”