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Community pleads to keep school open
Indian Valley residents have spurred themselves into action on a scale unseen before, so much so, that someone within the Plumas Unified School District felt it necessary to call the sheriff and ask for protection when the regular meeting was conducted Wednesday, March 28, in Greenville.
The reason for their presence that evening was unknown to administrative aide Patty McCutcheon, who shrugged and said at the time that she’d seen deputies and the sheriff at other meetings as well.
Residents have been stirred up ever since district administrators recommended closing both schools and busing high school students to Chester last year, before the school closure and consolidation committees had a chance to meet for the first time.
Although vociferous and obviously emotional, none of the many speakers during previous meetings in Greenville has offered any violence.
Then again, there has never been a time like now, when every teacher and administrator at Taylorsville Elementary School and Greenville Junior-Senior High School has been served with a layoff or bump notice.
Meanwhile directors say that no decisions to close the schools have been made.
Residents overflowed the school cafeteria, where the meeting was conducted last week.
While Plumas County Office of Education directors were in closed session for about 20 minutes, many could be heard talking about their disbelief, their ideas, their problems and hopes for the future.
Several stood to talk about the same during public comment periods of both the office and district meetings, and during the public hearing portion of the district meeting.
Even the reports from school sites were emotional.
Among those speaking that evening was retired principal and former superintendent Joe Hagwood, who presented the Greenville community with a 1925 yearbook he’d found in a box he’d been given.
It represented the first graduating class of Greenville High, and contained stories, class prophecies and other items that give a glimpse of times gone by.
Culinary arts teacher Judy Dolphin and her students presented their accomplishments at the ProStart competition, where they earned second place last year.
Although they didn’t place this year, they did receive a special $1,000 award from B.J.’s Restaurant and Brewhouse for their outstanding management skills and all the community events and activities they support.
Parent and former Taylorsville student Aaron McPherson spoke on behalf of the Taylorsville Parents Club, offering the board anything it took to keep the school open.
“We’ll raise whatever it takes, do anything we can to help out,” he said.
Club members raise thousands annually in donations, and more than hundreds of hours of volunteer time at the school.
Greenville High Principal Jim Lake’s voice cracked a few times while he spoke of what it’s like to be so intimately connected with a school community, where teachers and administrators are dedicated.
“Our schools mean the world to us,” he said. “They are more than mortar and bricks.”
Gary Stebbins, principal of Greenville and Taylorsville elementary schools, along with student council presidents, gave a presentation of elementary students’ activities. They illustrate a metaphor, Stebbins described, like jumping out of a plane into the unknown. Directors were given copies of the lyrics to “Beautiful Day” by Ziggy Marley, which played in the background.
Consider the human factor and not just the money, urged Dan Brown, who performs a multitude of duties at the school and in the district, besides being a math teacher and volleyball coach.
Music and physical education teacher Jim Norman talked about timelines, and how facilities committee members had a year to study the district situation and make recommendations, which did not include the immediate closure of three schools, like administrators want.
“It was rigorous work trying to form recommendations to the board in just six weeks,” he said of the school closure committees. He is a member of the Indian Valley committee.
Members are still formulating their recommendations and will present them to the board in May, he said,
Meanwhile, teachers are in a difficult situation and don’t know if they will even have a job here next year.
Norman mentioned young and excellent teachers who will be snapped up by other districts.
Science teacher Travis Rubke, who has taught at Greenville for more than 30 years, challenged statements made in support of school closures, especially Ken Capistrand’s comment at an earlier meeting about how any reasoning and objective person would come to the same conclusion.
Challenging conclusions is what science is all about, Rubke said.
One looks at how the information is gathered to see if mistakes were made.
“Students must do this so it’s only fair administration should be subject to the same scrutiny,” he said. “And it looks as if some of the facts were indeed twisted to suit the conclusions.”
Besides the science fair concept, Greenville High has also been the lead in other changes within the district, including senior projects, which started back in 1989.
He also mentioned how a grant was awarded to the fledgling Greenville High natural resources program, yet most of the money was taken by the district and put into the general fund.
“The people of GHS have been leaders of changes for years,” he said. “I do not recall a time when we all agreed on everything, but we worked together toward consensus.”
He and several other speakers all asked the district for at least another year to more fully explore the promising ideas and concepts in education that committee members are working on.
Marlene Mullen, a family advocate at the Roundhouse Council Indian Educational Center, also became emotional when she described how the Native American community is feeling.
“This is home — our families have been here for generations,” she said. “It’s not easy for us to pick up and move to be close to our children.
“This reminds us of the time when the grandparents were taken away and sent to boarding schools,” she said.
Students also spoke up about the threatened school closure, among them senior Julia Kusel, who was among the young students who converged on Sacramento several years ago to lobby for small school funding.
“They understood the rugged topography and granted their approval,” she said.
Others spoke about not being able to participate in sports if they were forced to go to school in Chester or Quincy, and how they would be unable to stay after school or go in early for extra help from their teachers.
Each also spoke of their feelings, how the school was the heart of the community, which itself was like a big family.
“Separating a family shouldn’t be a solution to money problems,” sophomore Kashira Deal said.
“Don’t split up our family,” said another student, who was a new student in 2010, yet felt like part of the family right from the start.
Her sentiments were echoed by an even newer student.
Plumas County District 2 supervisor candidate Kevin Goss also chimed in.
He was a Taylorsville student and a 1988 graduate of Greenville High.
He went away to school and came back home to eventually marry and raise his own family, yet is now sad to see what is happening.
“It has torn friends and families apart,” he said. “But it has also joined the community and county together in a way I’ve never seen before, and that brings me joy and a sense of hope.”
He pleaded with directors to remember that schools are gathering places for fundraisers and other social events.
“Take the schools away and you destroy that,” he finished.
“These aren’t numbers, these are children,” said mom Pam Fitch.
“Children should be taught by familiar faces, the teachers who live here and are invested in our community,” young mom and Taylorsville Parents Club president Lauren McIntyre said.
Jonathan Kusel, a former school board member from Indian Valley, also spoke, his comments more focused on the continual crisis and threats of school closure.
Major events he mentioned were in 1992, 2004 and 2012.
“Look at the chaos this has created,” he said to directors. “We’ve had a crisis for three years while the district has had a $7 million reserve. … If we were in such a crisis, then why hasn’t there been a reduction in expenditures?
“Stop the madness,” he pleaded. “Keep GHS open, hold everything constant and let’s continue the creative conversations that are taking place — but let’s do it now.”
Retired principal and district-level administrator Kest Porter doesn’t believe in the crisis after spending many hours studying district finances.
“The numbers were misleading and when reshuffled we could clearly see that the crisis wasn’t as bad as the administration touts,” he said.
And while administrators propose that students would be able to choose from more classes if they went to Chester, Porter doesn’t believe that either.
“Those extra classes are not worth what they would lose here,” he finished.
“If you close this school you will rip the heart out of this community,” said John Holland, who graduated from Portola and spent his entire teaching and coaching career in Greenville, where he still lives.
Many of the people filling the room were former students, including Goss, who played on a team that went the farthest in the county — to the No. 4 spot in the state.
Directors approved two expulsion cases discussed in closed session, then heard about a variety of other business.
The educational report given by the Greenville Junior-High School principal included how academic scores have shot up dramatically, with both the honor roll and dean’s list increasing by 100 percent over the last six semesters and the D/F list decreasing by almost the same amount, compared to last year.
Portola’s failing heating system was another item, with department head David Putnam telling directors about the problems, the patching and the proposal for a new system.
With a failing boiler, leaky underground lines and the increased cost of diesel, he is looking at a more economical propane system, and modern materials that may better withstand the underground environment and be easier to work with.
Directors approved his requests for $50,000 for an engineering and estimate report, and an unknown amount for plans and specifications for line repairs that will require about $30,000 in materials.
Putnam said the plans shouldn’t cost much.
Underground lines at Quincy High also need replacing, even though they were not on the list to do this year.
There have been two failures in the last year, so it needs to be done, he said, and he estimated up to a $12,000 cost for materials with work to be done in-house over the summer.
For the next meeting, Indian Valley director Bret Cook asked for the independent financial analysis of the district to be made available to directors before they meet, so they have time to study it before discussion.
Directors also talked about the process they must follow in replacing Brad Baker on the board.
Baker’s resignation was effective Thursday, March 8.
Current policy states they have only 30 days to appoint a new director, but the state gives them 60.
So they updated that policy and now have until Wednesday, May 2, for the interview and appointment process.
The appointed director would then serve until the next general election in November.
Directors also approved an agreement with Nancy Cary, of Quincy, to have YoZone vending machines installed at each high school in the district.
Students would then be able to buy foods and drinks that meet new state nutritional requirements.