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District serious about year-round schools

Sherry Mays

The Truckee elementary and middle schools have reached maximum capacity and are overflowing with students crowding hallways, playgrounds and core facilities.

Teachers and administrators want relief and the district is running for options.

The Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District conducted a special workshop to address options for year-round schooling last week, part of the ripple effect from Measure B’s defeat in April.

“If we can’t build a school, we need to address our options,” said TTUSD boardmember Suzanne Prouty. “There is no room for our children, especially at the middle school level.”

Prouty said although representation consisted mainly of teachers and administrators, it was a positive meeting.

“We would have liked to have had more parents attend,” she said. “It was still a productive meeting with lots of good discussion.”

The lack of parent representation is what board President John Wojcik calls a general misunderstanding of the overcrowding situation in the schools.

“It should be apparent to everyone that there is a real problem in our schools,” Wojcik said. “We need to address this problem sooner rather than later.”

Wojcik said he doesn’t foresee any alternatives except to send elementary and middle school students to school year round.

“Even if the bond passed it would take at least five years to build (a school),” he said. “There is a population bubble moving through the elementary schools now that a new school won’t help. We need to make long-term and short-term plans.”

Long-term plans include new school facilities. Short-term plans include year-round schooling and staggered bell schedules. In the short-term, Wojcik said potential growth is hard to pinpoint. In the past five years, yearly population growth hasn’t been consistent – from 8 percent at its highest, dropping no lower than 3 percent.

“I know that year round schooling will help alleviate the crowding, but staggered school schedules could add an additional burden on teachers and administrators,” he said.

One person who is not looking for additional burdens on his staff is Sierra Mountain Middle School Principal Nick Santamaria. The middle school, which has a 350 maximum capacity in its core facilities, is operating with 670 students.

“The middle school now has more classes outside than it does inside,” Santamaria said. “If our kids weren’t so tolerant, we would have big problems.”

The students are now required to move in one-way patterns in the hallways to prevent collisions among classes.

“Relocatables have caused havoc in our main facility,” he said. “There is no place to put everyone when the weather is bad.”

Santamaria said he tries to keep the computer lab, gymnasium and fitness room and library free most of the day

so that students who cannot get outside can use the facilities. He also said because of having to keep his students on the high school’s bus schedule, most students arrive almost 40 minutes ahead of the morning school bell. When the weather is bad, students remain in the school.

“There is a definite traffic problem within the school,” he said. “We are jammed up most of the time.”

Santamaria added that a staggered bell schedule could worsen the problems, tying up resources such as the computer room and library when others need to use them or the gym or soccer fields when schedules conflict for physical education classes and intermural sports.

“I don’t really know what I’m excited about,” he said.

Prouty said there is no question that a new school is needed, which in turn will force a bond measure. The $35 million bond to finance a new facility and modernization in Truckee schools was narrowly defeated in April. Wojcik said the public needs to be educated more thoroughly about what the overcrowding is doing to the students, teachers and administrators and said the board has set a tentative date for next spring to put the bond to vote for a second time.

Wojcik said the probable date to begin year-round schooling will be at the end of the 1998-99 school year in June 1999. It will cost the district about $500,000 from its general fund to implement the program.

“It was the last thing that we wanted to do,” Prouty said. “But it’s our only alternative now. It is unfortunate that the state gives us funds and then tells us how to use it. The general fund is finite, which guts our local control.”

She added that a bond committee appointed by the board is gearing up for next year’s campaign. There are five “captains” from each school who will choose five “worker bees,” she said.

“We want a bottom-up approach,” she said. “We need all of the community support and understanding that we can get.”

Wojcik said this workshop was only one of many that will be needed to address logistics for parents and educators, not to mention funding and budgets for the change.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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