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Trustees tackle February break issues and more Measure B architect fees

Choosing a school-year calendar for Plumas Unified School District campuses isn’t as easy as it might seem.

At its Dec. 13 regular meeting, the PUSD Governing Board of Trustees took another look at three school calendar options for the upcoming 2018-19 and 2019-20 years.

Attending the meeting in person were Trustees Leslie Edlund, board president Joleen Cline and Dwight Pierson. Trustees Dave Keller and Traci Holt, clerk of the board, participated via Skype.

Following input from the Plumas County Teachers Association, the board voted to request more data, seek opinions from families and hear the item again at an upcoming board meeting.

At issue was a request from teachers to select a calendar that would include a spring break of one week off in February.

Option A would provide a week off at Thanksgiving plus a Friday off before winter vacation and a four-day weekend in February.

Option B provides three days off at Thanksgiving and a one-week break in February.

Option C offers the same time off as Option A, but with an additional built-in school closure makeup day.

The PUSD administration had recommended adoption of Option C, based upon data showing higher rates of student absenteeism during Thanksgiving week when attendance is mandatory for part of the week.

Absent students cost the school district money in lost Average Daily Attendance reimbursements.

Quincy Junior Senior High School Teacher Ron Logan spoke on behalf of the teachers, who had taken an advisory vote.

“It was not a close vote this time,” Logan said. “Two-thirds of our teachers voted to recommend that you adopt Option B, and one-third voted for Option C. We know this was an advisory vote. We have contracts and we will honor them. I do understand student absenteeism on the two days before the Thanksgiving break, but teachers with many years of experience with students are weighing in on these calendars. It’s a very long stretch without breaks for students, and teachers see value in that week off in February.”

The trustees expressed appreciation for the input of the teachers, talked about the challenges of adopting “the perfect calendar,” and asked their new Quincy High student representative to the board, junior Megan Jensen, for her opinion or preference on the matter.

Jensen said her family used to enjoy the February break as a beneficial way to have a family vacation together, but added that her parents are generally working at that time now and don’t make plans to be gone then.

Trustee Keller said he valued the teachers’ position on the calendar issue and appreciated the effort PUSD staff had put into coming up with a recommendation for Option C.

Trustees Pierson, Edlund and Cline acknowledged being “torn” about making a selection without knowing what Plumas County parents and families would like to see, what would work best for them.

“Knowing these numbers [about absent students] is making it really hard,” Cline said.

“Let’s be honest,” Pierson commented. “Not every family has the option to travel in February or take that time off. And any time we don’t have students in school, that means days of high-quality learning that are lost. So we have to focus on what’s best for our families and students.”

Edlund told the board she used to hear anecdotally from parents that it was hard to make child care arrangements for a week off in February, but that now there seemed to be a shift toward wanting time off during that month as a way to spend family time together.

“But that’s just what I’ve heard anecdotally,” she clarified, and joined the other trustees in wanting to hear new input from families affected by the calendar options.

Voting to seek more data on the attendance rates and gather input from district families, the board voted 5-0 to continue the calendar item to its January meeting.

PUSD staff will survey parents on the issue in the coming weeks.

More Measure B architect fees

Considering new information on estimated architect fees for some of the Measure B improvement projects they had looked at Nov. 27, the trustees voted to hold off on a decision about proposed fees on two Indian Valley Elementary School projects.

Instead, they tackled three tough choices for Portola Junior Senior High School that totaled $227,200.

The estimated architect fees for a survey needed about Americans With Disability Act accessibility at the ball fields and sidewalk replacement work ($10,000) was approved.

Fees for work to make the softball and baseball fields accessible were OK’d at $172,000.

And $45,200 in estimated architect fees was approved for the street frontage project with sidewalk replacement for the east edge of the bus drop-off area and electrical assessment work plus a color study.

Trustees asked for confirmation that moving ahead with the decisions will help keep the Measure B projects on schedule with implementation timelines (it does) and President Edlund questioned, “Will we have enough funding to get a roofing project going next summer?”

District staff said yes, there will be funding available for those purposes and commented that the increase in capital construction projects currently underway (in various sectors of the economy) is beginning to drive construction costs up, so time is of the essence.

Trustee Cline said, “Let’s focus on things like the electrical work because it’s a ‘have-to’ project for safety reasons.”

Pierson acknowledged the challenges of the process and said, “It’s a universal experience right now that schools are encountering 20- to 30-percent administrative costs on their projects and it’s impacting schools everywhere. Legislation is being considered to reduce this. If we can get these projects on the board (by our votes), we’ll have a better estimate of the costs.”

Superintendent Oestreich advised the school board members that during their February round of Measure B discussions, they will be prioritizing the projects they want to move forward on. In the meantime, district staffers are gathering more information from their contractors to better identify what they do for the architect fees they are estimating.

The trustees asked whether or not costs could be lowered by breaking projects into smaller phases, but the answer came back that no, work on the same project at the same site is still considered one project overall in terms of the costs it can trigger for ADA requirements and whether or not a project has to go through the Department of the State Architect.

Even breaking a project into different years for the purposes of completing the work does not reduce the costs for reviews, approvals, etc., according to the PUSD administration team.

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