The Chester area District Advisory, “7-11” or School Closure Committee, met for its last regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, April 4, in the cafeteria at Chester Junior-Senior High School. The meeting was called for two purposes: to give the public its first look at the draft recommendation created by the committee, and give that same public the ability to comment on the recommendation.
As was customary in each of the prior Chester 7-11 meetings, the public was given time to comment on items not on the agenda. Two of the audience members chose to speak about Reading Recovery.
Nancy Sife, a Reading Recovery teacher leader from Quincy, discussed the benefits of the program that targets first-grade students struggling with reading. Reading Recovery, according to Sife, is an intervention model that is too valuable to students to cut. She added that the majority of the district’s Title I funds, funds set aside for reading and math intervention, goes to fund the program that targets reading for struggling first-grade students.
Chester Elementary School (CES) Principal Sally McGowan also spoke positively about the program. In her view, the program, although relatively new at CES, is making a difference in the students it serves.
She went on to say that Reading Recovery was the Ferrari of reading intervention programs, adding, “It’s expensive, but worth it!”
When both McGowan and Sife had finished, Chester 7-11 Chairwoman Traci Holt reminded them that the committee was not targeting any one specific program, but was charged with looking at the possibility of school closures and/or consolidations, and ways to avoid such steps.
Reading Recovery utilizes almost all of the district’s Title I funds, and as such is one of the possible cuts looked at to keep the district from enacting closures or consolidations.
The fruit of the Chester 7-11 Committee’s long hours and months of work has culminated in a draft document that stretches to 65 pages. The document will likely grow as additional information is received before the April 20 deadline when recommendations must be in the hands of the Plumas Unified School District board of trustees.
When it is complete and delivered, the members of Chester’s 7-11 committee will join the other three 7-11 committees at the Wednesday, May 2, PUSD meeting in Quincy. At that meeting the committees will present their recommendations.
The PUSD board of trustees will then have a week to mull over the presentations. On Wednesday, May 9, the board will hold its regularly scheduled board meeting at Chester Junior-Senior High School.
Although the committee has not yet had all of its questions answered, according to Holt, particularly in regards to the district’s finances, the members of the committee had done the best that they could.
“We took our charge very seriously,” said Holt.
One of the chief recommendations made by the committee in order to avoid school closures and/or consolidations is to trim back every line item possible. To that end, the committee recommended looking at technology being used by the schools as one area of possible savings.
The committee also feels that there are utility savings to be had and has contacted Pacific Gas and Electric Co. about an energy audit.
Travel is another area that the committee feels may be ripe for savings, especially given the capabilities of teleconferencing to attend meetings.
The committee has also recommended that the district look into new ways to generate revenue. The thinking behind this is simple. If the school does not have enough money to keep the status quo in regards to school sites, staff levels and class offerings, then it needs to bring in enough money to offset the costs.
An out-of-the-box idea regarding district leadership also came to light at the meeting. Rather than employ a PUSD superintendent, why couldn’t the district utilize a board of principals?
Holt added that she still feels that there is room to save in the district’s finances, specifically in code 5800, which is a catchall category.
When Holt asked for a line-by-line breakdown of that class code she was told, “Code 5800 is too large to list out.”
Unfortunately the draft document was not released to the audience due to a request made by the district to all 7-11 committees.
It was Holt’s understanding that when the recommendations were delivered to the district on April 20, they would be placed on the district’s website for public view.
The Chester 7-11 Committee approved the draft recommendation, knowing that the document still needed input from both members and the district, not to mention some polishing and wordsmithing.
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