Public says: Don’t close Quincy El; Sheriff wants to build jail near Pioneer
One hundred citizens spoke with one unified voice at the first public forum of the Quincy school closure committee. The message to the so-called 7-11 committee Thursday, Jan. 26, was direct and unanimous: Do not close Quincy Elementary School.
Among the strongest voices was that of Plumas County Sheriff Greg Hagwood. He told the assembly that he planned to build the county’s new jail “a few hundred yards north” of Pioneer Elementary School, the school district’s preferred site for a consolidated K – six campus.
Moreover, he said he wanted to partner with Plumas Unified School District to use the Pioneer campus as a kind of annex for the jail so he could offer the “ancillary services,” such as education and vocational training, required now that the county jail is housing long-term state inmates.
“This (arrangement) would serve the best interests of the whole county,” Hagwood said.
The theme of location, location, location recurred throughout the meeting. The community was very clear about its priorities: it values a close-knit, watchful neighborhood, as provided by Quincy El, and supports a walkable, livable community. Parent Lucinda Wood noted, “It’s very healthy for children to walk to school.”
Others praised Quincy El for its proximity to such important support institutions as the county courthouse, library, museum, downtown shops and offices, community garden and after-school activities like music, dance and drama classes. “Quincy is made for walking,” said parent Joe Hoffman. “I don’t know how you put a number, a value on that.”
Speaker after speaker praised the sixth-grade watershed curriculum and Quincy El’s proximity to Boyles Ravine, which serves as a natural laboratory for the program.
Jim Boland noted that folks in the neighborhood served as “extra eyes and ears” to keep watch on kids. He also pointed out the health benefits of children taking walking field trips not only to Boyles Ravine but also to the aforementioned downtown institutions.
In contrast, speakers blasted the location of Pioneer El, which is situated across the street from a major industrial site, Sierra Pacific Industries’ mill. Chris Murray described the difference as being a choice between a “neighborhood school” and “an industrial-zoned site.”
A chemical spill at the mill in November 2009 forced the district to cancel after-school activities at the Pioneer campus. The only reason the school wasn’t evacuated was that the spill occurred on a Monday, which is an early-release day for the district. There were questions about the mill’s reporting of the incident, with emergency services not notified until after injured workers showed up at Plumas District Hospital’s emergency room.
In August 2007, SPI paid $13 million to settle alleged air-quality violations at four of its Sierra facilities, including the Quincy mill. From 1999 to 2001, SPI allowed excess nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide emissions, exceeded opacity limits, falsified required source tests and failed to promptly report the violations at the Quincy plant, according to court papers.
Hagwood called the location of Pioneer “a problem” and said to “knowingly put all kids there” was to take on “an amazing level of liability.”
Citizens also assailed Pioneer as being unsafe for kids to walk to and from. There are no sidewalks on the east side of North Mill Creek Road or crosswalks from one side of the street to the other. Both Lee Road to the north of campus and Highway 70 to the south pose safety risks for students trying to walk anywhere.
One woman said a logging truck almost hit her while was riding her bike on Lee Road, and she had seen near misses on both roads.
Speakers also criticized the school district for its handling of the school closure process. Pointing to the California Department of Education’s best practices guidelines and timeline, citizens attacked the district’s facilities budget study as “narrow and short-sighted,” “pre-determined” and rushed.
Joe Hagwood, a former teacher and administrator who just finished an interim stint as elementary principal in Indian Valley, called the district’s process “deeply flawed.” For the superintendent to make recommendations in the middle of the process was an “unfortunate, deep structural flaw.”
Hagwood went on to say that from his insider’s perspective it was very clear to him from last year that the district wanted to close Quincy El, mostly on the basis of not having a universally accessible restroom.
Of the district’s study and recommendations, he said the document’s “statistics and information were generated to support a conclusion already arrived at.” His comments were greeted by a long round of applause.
John Sheehan elicited laughter when he noted, “any administration — look at Syria and Venezuela — can bring department heads together to ratify an already-made decision.”
Boland, Michael Jackson and Piers Strailey all called on the committee to take a longer, broader view. “When this crisis subsides, we will reach a new steady state; we don’t want to be stuck with a crisis decision.”
Jackson said the district had been asking the wrong questions. “We’re down to 400 kids (at the two elementary schools). Where will they get the best education? The best surround?”
We shouldn’t be asking, “‘What is the cheapest way to get through this crisis?’ but ‘How do we want our children raised in the future?’
“Does anyone think we put the school of the future next to the mill?”
“The first cuts should be furthest from the students,” Strailey said. “I’m not convinced we’re at a critical juncture yet.” He encouraged people to look at the money the district was spending on litigation and arbitration. “Why not move the district office and hold onto both schools?” he asked.
County supervisor Lori Simpson said she was concerned about the “fast tracking” of the closure process for the next fiscal year. “We should examine every possibility before we disrupt people’s lives,” she said, before vowing to fight “to keep our museums open, our libraries open and all our county schools open.”
A number of citizens spoke of standing in solidarity with Indian Valley, which faces the possible closure of Taylorsville Elementary School and Greenville High School.
Quincy business owner Jeanne Brovelli said she had grandkids in the Indian Valley schools. Closing a high school would hurt the entire county, she said. “We’re all in this together.” She called the idea of busing kids from Greenville to Chester, or older kids driving the route themselves, “alarming.”
Sheriff Hagwood said there was a viable number of students to do a K – 12 in Greenville without busing. If the district does bus, “We’re going to see problems that can be avoided. I don’t want to see my staff having to address problems brought about by busing.”
Business owner Gary Vogt’s comments seemed to sum up the majority opinion at the meeting. He noted the district’s own strategic plan called for “safe, clean, healthy schools — that’s Quincy El!”