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The 7-11 meeting that almost didn’t happen
On Tuesday, Feb. 7, the District Advisory Committee for Chester area schools, also called the “7-11” committee, met for the third of its six weekly meetings. This meeting, however, almost didn’t happen.
According the Traci Holt, chairwoman for the Chester Area 7-11 Committee, the problem stemmed from the requirement in the Brown Act that notification of public meetings be posted 72 hours prior to the actual meeting in a freely accessible place, and on the school district’s website. As the committee is part of Plumas Unified School District, in order for the meeting to have met this requirement, the district would have needed to post the agenda on its website the day it received it, Friday, Feb. 3, because the district is not staffed on the weekends.
PUSD refused to post the agenda, arguing that weekend hours did not count towards the 72-hour requirement. Even though the California Attorney General’s Office contends that weekend hours do count, it was a moot point as it was too late to have a regular board meeting. In order to keep the meeting as scheduled, however, Holt called for a “special” meeting, which only requires 24-hour notice.
On the agenda for the Feb. 7 meeting was the discussion and formulation of survey questions to gauge the public’s opinion on the situation facing Plumas County schools. Also up for discussion at the meeting was the formulation of a mission statement, and reports from the sub-committees created at the Feb. 1 meeting.
Before any of the above was addressed, however, Holt voiced again her concern that the information the committees had been given was flawed or otherwise inaccurate.
For an example of this she pointed to two documents labeled as interim budget reports, each for the exact same date with radically different numbers. Taking it a step further, the committee discussed the discrepancies between the data in the Facilities Advisory Committee report and the Facilities-Budget Study prepared by PUSD administration.
According to Gina Pixler, a member of the Facilities Advisory Committee said that she had serious concerns regarding the lack of congruity between the document her committee created and the document created by the PUSD administration to support its recommendation.
Another topic discussed was the lack of urgency from the Chester/Lake Almanor area. The overwhelming majority of audience members at the first three meetings have been Chester area staff members. This was addressed further when the Economic Impact Subcommittee reported that a few of the business owners that had been queried did not foresee an economic impact from the closure of Greenville High School (GHS), nor from the consolidation of Chester’s schools to one K – 12 site.
This contradicted local jeweler David Price’s argument from the Feb. 1 meeting. At that meeting, Price said that both situations, especially the consolidation, would have a tremendous impact on the economy of the Chester area. Anything that has the potential to harm the schools, he said, makes the area less desirable for families, and could erode the population, and therefore the economic base.
Chester Junior-Senior High teacher Caitlyn Dalby added, “Any small business owner that thinks this (closures or consolidations) won’t have an impact on their business needs to have their face slapped.”
Scott Cory, principal of Chester Junior-Senior High, added that the 7-11 committee meetings and the proposed closures and consolidations in Indian Valley should be a wakeup call for the Chester area.
Although the proposed consolidation of Chester schools, if acted upon by PUSD, is not slated for the next school year, an economic impact may still be felt if the district goes forward with the first phase of the administration’s plan. The first phase recommends the closure of GHS and the consolidation of Indian Valley’s two elementary schools. The impact could come in the form of staff layoffs in Chester to accommodate relocated teachers from Indian Valley with higher seniority.
Much of the discussion at the meeting centered around a question: Had PUSD really looked at all the pieces of the puzzle, and, more to the point, had the administration before making its recommendation? The opinion of many in the audience, as well as many on the committee, was that the administration could not have possibly considered all the variables when making its recommendation.
“There’s no way to know how schools will be funded,” Indian Valley 7-11 Committee member Guy McNett said. “Everything’s up in the air.”
Many of the committee members expressed their doubts about the deficit spending projected for the following year, should no action be taken by PUSD.
Audience member Arnold Selk, a veteran of the Los Angeles Unified School District with over 15 years of experience, added in an email sent to Feather Publishing, “It would be a shame to dilute the effectiveness of student oriented offerings because of (still nebulous) financial restraints.”
Chester Junior-Senior High teacher Shawn Mahaffey reiterated a point he made at the Feb. 1 meeting, a point that complements Selk’s statement. Mahaffey again asserted that any cuts in the budget, any changes, should be done as far away from the classroom as possible.
Both Selk and Mahaffey argue that the emphasis, when dealing with the proposed closures, consolidations, layoffs and cuts, should be on what is in the best interest of the students. Unfortunately, the emphasis on the financial health of the district has overshadowed the educational needs of the children in each of the four communities.
This leads to a bigger question, one that Mahaffey had asked in previous meetings. What will public education in Plumas County look like in the future? More to the point, if PUSD moves forward with the recommendations presented by the administration, what will public education look like?
The next regularly scheduled meeting for the Chester Area 7-11 Committee will be held tonight, Wednesday, Feb. 15, in the library at Chester Junior-Senior High School, at 6 p.m.