SLV School District Perspectives
School Board Meeting Synopsis
September 16, 2003
Link To SLVUSD Web site Agendas and Minutes Page (Note: These are PDF files - read this if you have trouble opening them). Minutes are posted after they are approved, usually at the next regular meeting.
Note from Laura About These Synopses (Basically, I report on what I think will be most interesting to community residents. Consult the minutes for a more complete listing of what happened in the meeting.)
The board had no report out of closed session, which was listed on the agenda as follows:
Confidential Personnel Issues (which may include leaves, medical issues, disciplines, separation, etc.) (Government Code 54957)
Claimants: SLV CARES, Michelle Hooker, L. Crews McCulloch, Janice Marshall, and Martin McKendry Vs San Lorenzo Valley Unified School District
Several parents, teachers and staff members got up to support the board and say they were against the recall.
Bill English got up to challenge the geologist whom Superintendent Haff stated she talked to (see 9/2/03) about the fault line near BCE last having an earthquake 23 million years ago. He cited a roads and transportation report which states that the faults close to Boulder Creek are "considered active or potentially active".
A suggestions was made that a lectern be moved in front of the mike during community input times, for people who have lots of papers.
A parent got up to observe a change since last year, when she complained that her high school children didn't have enough work assigned (by mid-October, not a single book read or paper assigned). The situation has changed considerably, and her children have told her she can stop agitating for more work. She is pleased.
A teacher said not only is she against the recall, but challenges the recall proponents and SLV CARE to reimburse the district so that children won't have to bear the brunt of the costs incurred by the legal action and possible recall election.
The SLV Teachers' Association representative reported that they are investigating legal action to obtain reimbursement to the general fund for legal fees incurred from the pending litigation listed above. (Read more about this.)
Julie said that the district office will be moving to the Quail Hollow building. They hope the move will be complete by early December. (I missed a few other things Julie said, and I may add them once the minutes come out.)
A going-away gift was given to Don Fox, our Chief Financial Officer, who will be much missed. On a personal note, he has gone out of his way to explain some of the ins and outs of the budget to me, and I have watched him help us all understand many many aspects of the budget over the past year, both in regular school board meetings and in special public workshops. Don expressed how much he enjoyed working with the District staff, as well as our community, saying many nice things. He also complimented the board for making tough but fiscally sound decisions. He warned, however, that the District is "in delicate balance", and feels we are in danger of losing more people. He urged us all to pull together in support.
Andrea Rowe, the Director of Fiscal Services, has also announced that she is moving on to another position. This will indeed be a huge gap.
County Supervisor Jeff Almquist came to clear up questions having to do with the "rezoning" of the land parcel near the Redwood school building. Most of what he said is contained in my article on the subject. He reiterated the following points:
- The zoning issue was in no way tied into the school closure process.
- The district never requested rezoning, but only asked for clarification about whether staff housing could be built on undeveloped district-owned land.
- The district has not had any ongoing input on the process - it just took the county two years to complete it.
He also added that he was interested in the issue when it was brought to him because in the late 90's, a lot of public agencies - he cited police, fire, and hospitals - were having trouble attracting and retaining employees due to the high cost of living here. Constructing housing was one way some counties had used assist with this. However, with the economy reversed from that situation, it has become a non-issue.
The recommendations for all 153 parcels in the completed Highway 9 Rezoning Study will be presented to the County Board of Supervisors in October. Supervisor Almquist said that if the board wanted, they could vote to have it dropped from the list, which the board voted to do, as there is no reason to spend staff time on an issue that no longer has value to the district.
Supervisor Almquist also reported that in response to parent request, a sidewalk will be built on the north side of Lomond Ave. between Oak and Laurel so children and parents won't have to walk in the street on the way to school.
A parent questioned the return on investment of the idea for teacher housing. The answer given was that teacher recruitment and retention was the intended result, not financial gain.
Public Hearing - Environmental Impact - Closure of Redwood and Quail Hollow Elementary Schools
Steven Graves presented the results of the the environmental impact report. First, he expressed surprise that the board would order the report, since it clearly states in the CEQA code that school closures are exempt under our circumstances (one of which is that the school building won't operate at more than 25% over capacity). Then, he presented the results of the report stating that there was no environmental impact from the closures.
A community member asked why portables were needed if BCE wasn't over capacity. It was explained that because of class size reduction in grades K-3, those classrooms weren't operating at capacity. However, Don Fox said it's possible that next year the class size reduction will have to be partially or totally eliminated, raising the number of students in those classrooms.
Other community members had questions about the process, and we were told that this would appear on the agenda as an action item in the future, and responses to these questions would be forthcoming at that time.
School Closure Wrap-Up
All in all, at this time it appears that close to $900,000 was saved by the school closures.
Preliminary enrollment counts were reported. It was explained that counts usually go up through September and early October. These were compared with projections, both those generated by the District, and those generated by the demographer's report done last year. Total enrollment for the District is 174 less than we predicted, and 38 less than the demographer predicted. Most of that difference comes in the high school (60 less than the District predicted) and Junior High (44 less). In the elementary schools, the District calculated that BCE would have 48 more students than they do and SLE 22 more. The demographer's predictions, by contrast were quite close to the actual numbers.
Preliminary Counts for all schools (charter excluded):
BCE - 633 (it looks
like 34 students did not make the switch from RE to BCE)
Boulder Creek Recreation Dept Use Agreement Update
Inputs are being collected and draft agreements are being prepared.
Selected Action Items
All-Weather Running Track
The Booster Club and the All Weather Track committee got approval to submit grant applications for an all-weather rubberized track at the high school. Their plan is to be able to install the track with money from grants and donations exclusively. They have received lots of professional help from the community on this. It's an impressive undertaking, and they seem to be progressing well on it.
There were two items about the budget. We need to make $1.15 million in cuts to balance the 04-05 budget. Restoration of "temporary" cuts can account for about half of it.
Surplus Property Advisory Committee
As decided in the 8/19/03 meeting, the District is looking for 9 community members to make up the committee to decide about the best usages for the vacant Redwood Elementary School building and the soon-to-be vacant District Office in Felton (which is moving to the Quail Hollow building). Unfortunately, they only have 7 applications so far, and none from areas 4 and 5. Also, there are no business owners so far, and all of the applicants are over 40. Consequently, they are looking for more applicants and a greater diversity of them. Areas 4 and 5 are Lompico, Zayante, and Felton.
Background: Child care is provided before and after school in the north part of the district by the YMCA at Boulder Creek Elementary School. As this is a need of many parents (indeed, many people who educate their children outside the district cite this as a prime reason), the District has made attempts in the past to find a contractor to provide similar services in the south part of the district. This summer, a certificated teacher who has worked with the district presented a proposal whereby the District could provide child care at Quail Hollow. The teacher and an aide could provide homework help, tutoring, and a variety of activities and programs. The board did not vote in favor of the plan, mostly due to fears that the program would not pay for itself - they felt they needed more information to determine this.
The District instituted a survey of parents who had students at San Lorenzo Elementary School. The results were presented at this meeting. 89 of the families surveyed said they would enroll their child(ren) in the District's child care in October if it was available. 54 more said they would make plans to do so in the future. Upon questioning, however, it was realized that two key pieces of information were not included in the survey: the price of the child care ($350 per month) and the fact that the service would be provided in the Quail Hollow building, with bus service provided from SLE. Additionally, at least one board member felt that the budget submitted was too ambitious and that it would take more than the proposed 18.5 students to break even. A very long, sometimes contentious discussion ensued, with some board members feeling that even if the cost of the project had been somewhat underestimated, they could provide a cushion by requiring more students be enrolled, and that the high level of interest warranted going ahead, albeit with safeguards in place to avoid an encroachment on the District.
In the end, the proposal, amended at least twice, passed 3-1-1, with Weber voting no and Fultz abstaining due to insufficient information.
The language in the official District policies has been changed to include that a fee may be charge to the public to pay for the copying of public records. More information in the 9/2/03 meeting synopsis.
A former Redwood (now BCE) parent said that many Redwood parents had decided to try BCE for a year before making the decision whether to stay in the district.
Someone referred to the Valley Press article that the elementary schools have 161 fewer students, saying that this amounted to $800,000 in ADA, nearly the same amount that the District saved by closing schools.
A parent said that the community should be given plenty of notice about proposed budget cuts so that alternative funding sources can possibly be found such as fundraising.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:10 PM.
Comments from Laura:
I hope that after Supervisor Almquist's presentation that people will be able to finally let go of the idea that the board has had nefarious plans to "bring the city to the valley" in the words of one resident. When we have a problem to be solved, it is appropriate that the board investigate various possible solutions - indeed it is the essence of at least part of the Trustee job. The community has input at all stages of the process. Nothing is done in secret. The only thing the board did was ask the county about this issue, and it took the clarification request this long to get through the county system. Now it has been officially dropped.
I think we should take the words of Don Fox seriously. I have heard a rumor that the we are having trouble recruiting a new Chief Financial Officer and Fiscal Service Director because of all the difficulties here, and that other people have considered resigning. This despite the fact that everyone praises the District staff. These are difficult times and we MUST find ways of pulling together. Lawsuits, recalls, and lots of negativity in board meetings are not helping our district at this critical time.
Since declining enrollment is such a critical problem in our district, I plan to do an article within the next month or two analyzing our enrollment issues at some length, as I have a particular interest in this subject. As the demographer pointed out last year, we have a declining birth rate in the area, which is part of the reason for the enrollment going down, but I think there could still be some as yet unexplained issues around declining enrollment. For example, the demographer also pointed out that there tends to be far fewer students entering the Jr. High than left the elementary schools the previous year. Some but not all return for high school.
Something else to keep in mind as we look at this year's stats is that after Redwood opened, BCE had a one year dip in enrollment when Ben Lomond people who didn't want to drive to Boulder Creek temporarily had their children educated elsewhere. Enrollment bounced back the next year.