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Board postpones decision - Teachers vote no confidence

Delaine FragnoliSchoolClz
Managing Editor


As their Feb. 8 meeting stretched toward 10:30 p.m., members of the Plumas Unified School District governing board voted unanimously to postpone a decision on teacher layoffs until a special meeting Feb. 22.

Bret Cook made the motion. “Given the comments we’ve heard tonight,” he said, “I think it would give the public more confidence” if the vote were postponed.

Earlier in the meeting, teacher union president Barbara Benge announced that 87 percent of the district’s certificated staff had voted no confidence in Superintendent Glenn Harris. She cited failure to provide for academic needs in favor of building a reserve, the compromised process and timeline for school closures, and “a climate of intimidation, fear and retaliation.”

Her comments came at the beginning of the public input section, and were followed by nearly two hours of public castigation of the district in general and Harris in particular.

Greenville High School students, from left, Alice Villalobos, Nikole Machado and Julianna Arteaga take turns speaking to the school board Wednesday, Feb. 8. “No school means no town,” said Arteaga, Associated Student Body president. “Don’t shut down my town.” Villalobos, a junior, told the board, “I want to be a graduate from Greenville High School.” Photo by Delaine Fragnoli

During public comment and in formal presentations to the board, representatives of the Chester, Indian Valley and Quincy school closure, or 7-11, committees asked for more time and information to complete their recommendations, currently due to the board in March. Because the items were agendized for discussion only, the board could not act directly on their requests.

School board schedule
Special meeting
Wednesday, Feb. 22, 5:30 p.m.
District office in Quincy
Focus is on budget workshop but agenda will also include items tabled from the Feb. 8 meeting, including possible layoff of teachers.
Special meeting
Thursday, March 8, 5 p.m.
District office in Quincy
Special meeting
Thursday, March 15, 5 p.m.
District office in Quincy
Regular meeting
Wednesday, March 28, 5 p.m.
Greenville Elementary School
Rescheduled from original date of March 14; 7-11 committees are expected to give their recommendations.
Regular meeting
Wednesday, April 18, 5 p.m.
Portola High School
Board is expected to vote on school closures and consolidations.

One thing that everyone, from board members to members of the public, seemed to agree on: the 7-11 committees were doing “a great job at a difficult task,” in the words of board member Bob Tuerck.

Cook praised the “quality of thought” that went into the Indian Valley committee’s request for more information. “This is why I wanted 7-11 committees, this is the kind of feedback we wanted.”

Harris vowed to quickly provide what information the district had. He noted that the California Public Records Act does not compel the district to “compose new information” but does require it “to provide current information in the form it exists in.”

Harris went on to say, “Several pieces we can provide, others are not reasonable for us to generate given the timeline.” At which several audience members shouted, “Extend the timeline!”

Harris said he could supply the information to all the 7-11 committees and the “fastest, simplest” way would be on the district’s website.

Cook said he thought the district’s recommendations were “short on data. I would want this (information requested by the committee).” Cook asked Harris how long it would take the district to provide everything the committee wanted.

Harris said he was “shooting from the hip,” but estimated a month, which elicited laughs, snorts and a “what a joke” from the audience.

Cook asked Centella Tucker, who was representing the Indian Valley committee, how much time her group would need if Harris could get her all the requested information. “Another month for us to do a thorough analysis.”

That would put the committee working into April, when its recommendations are due in March. The board is scheduled to vote on the closures and consolidations at its April 18 meeting.

Discussion then turned to adjusting the schedule to try to accommodate a later report date. Tuerck suggested special board meetings and perhaps pushing the decision into May. “We need to take the time to get this right,” he said.

Chairman Chris Russell came prepared with suggestions for a series of dates for special board meetings, starting with a budget workshop Feb. 22, when the board will also revisit the 7-11 timeline. (See sidebar for details, other dates.)

Cook acknowledged the board had been “late out of the gate” with the 7-11 process. “It was not intentional on my part, on anybody’s part.”

Board member Brad Baker reassured the committees that the district’s recommendations, presented in January, were “not the end-all. The 7-11 reports will be the most important reports we’ll get. Your work weighs a great deal on my decision. It’s news to us if a decision has been made.”

“You are speaking not just to the board,” Russell told the committees, “but the whole county. Everybody is going to hear you.”


Public comment

The crowd of nearly 200 had criticism, and lots of it, for the school district administration.

Tucker drew a hearty round of applause when she said, “We declare that pride in community and pride in quality of education are not opposite choices. In a rural area such as ours they are so intertwined as to be indistinguishable. The superintendent chooses to ignore that when he suggests closing schools, just as he chooses to ignore the impact on the students, their families and their town.”

Traci Holt, chairwoman of the Chester 7-11 committee, said she felt her group had gotten “limited data” from the district. “We only have what they want us to have,” she said. When committee members requested more information, she says Harris told them administrators were “busy with their day jobs.”

She added that the district refused to post her committee’s agenda because the district erroneously believed that weekend hours don’t count toward the 72-hour notice requirement. “This did not ease feelings of incompetence about the administration,” Holt told the board.

Teacher of the Year Travis Rubke was the first of several speakers to support Greenville High School principal Jim Lake. “Surely you wouldn’t take away our leadership?” Rubke asked, after comparing the district’s slow starvation of Indian Valley schools to someone trying to kill an unwanted houseplant.

Longtime music teacher Jim Norman also supported the principal. “Mr. Lake is a wonderful influence on staff, students and community. I support him 100 percent.”

Sixth-grade teacher Alan Morrison, of Quincy, pointed out that the district is operating on a surplus. “It may be dwindling, but there’s no reason to be hasty,” he said. “Save your decision for further information.”

“Greenville is the most important decision right now,” Quincy attorney Michael Jackson said. GHS is “the beating heart of one of our communities.”

Jocelyn Cote echoed his sentiments: closing GHS is “a euthanasia of sorts.”

Graeagle’s Mark Mihevc said the district had “misled” the public and tried to “shove” its plan “down our throats.”

The district should “scrap the plan (to close GHS),” said Kristy Brown. “It’s crap. I would throw it away … You, Glenn Harris, have sent our community into a panic.”

Brown told the board, “Have him re-do it. Glenn Harris works for us, for you. You don’t work for him.”

Jonathan Kusel, a 10-year school board veteran, urged the board to “provide numbers people can work with.”

David Schramel, a business owner in Indian Valley, said the biggest issue facing the valley is no longer jobs, but schools. He said his son, a Marine, wants to move back to Plumas County to raise his children, but probably won’t because of the schools.

Longtime Indian Valley teacher John Holland emphasized, “We are Plumas Unified School District. … You have the resources to run our schools for three years without doing anything, and that’s what you should do. Keep it unified, keep all the schools.”

Two voices did speak out in defense of Harris. Ken Capistrand, director of technology, called comments about fear and retaliation “off the mark.” He said Harris had high expectations for his administrators. “I trust him 100 percent, he’s a good leader.”

Later in the meeting, after the crowd had thinned out considerably, Portola High School principal Kristy Warren read a letter she had written nominating Harris for the Association of California School Administrators’ Superintendent of the Year award. Warren declined a request from Feather Publishing to print her letter as a Where I Stand.


Items tabled

The meeting, held in the multi-purpose room at Quincy Elementary School, suffered from a number of logistical problems. Although the podium for public speakers was equipped with a microphone, the board dais was not. Board members and administrators had to pass a single hand-held microphone back and forth, after audience members began shouting, “We can’t hear you!”

Members of the audience could not read the numbers on the screen during Business Director Yvonne Bales’ financial report. Bales did not supply backup materials or handouts to either the board or the audience. Tuerck asked that she email her report to board members and 7-11 committees. Harris said he would also post it to the district’s website,

The combined Plumas County Office of Education/PUSD meetings went for 6-1/2 hours and required a special vote of the board. The board had previously set an end-time of 10:30 p.m. for its meetings. As it neared the magic hour, the board had to stop deliberations and vote to keep going.

At that point the board started tabling items that could be postponed, including the vote on teacher layoffs. Before making his motion, Cook checked with Harris that the district would still have enough time to issue the layoff notices if the board put off the vote until Feb. 22.

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