One-year reprieve for summit school
Donner Trail School will remain open at least one more year.
At a Tahoe Truckee Unified School District board meeting Wednesday night, Donner Trail parents argued that the superintendent’s recommendation to close the school as part of district-wide budget cuts came at too short of notice, and they asked for time to come up with a plan to save the school, which is located on top of Donner Summit.
“We have come here to do one thing,” said Donner Trail parent Bill Sinoff. “We’ve come here to convince the board that six days is not enough to make a decision of this magnitude.”
Four school board members agreed, giving the school one more year so the school district and Donner Summit community could come up with a plan to make the community school’s programs more equitable with others in the district.
“I’m not a person who wants to sit on this board and make a screwy fly-by-night decision, but this isn’t a fly-by-night decision; we’ve kind of been talking about this for a while,” said board member Mel Cone. “I move that we (review the closure of) Donner Trail a year from now, by June 1, 2006.”
Donner Trail boasts one of the smallest class size ratios in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District. In addition to what the budget review committee suggested for cuts for the 2005-06 school year, Superintendent Dennis Williams suggested the closure of the school as an additional cut, saying the cost per student to run Donner Trail is more expensive than other schools in the district.
Last week, Williams estimate the closure of Donner Trail would save the district $78,000 per year. The savings was recalculated and presented at the school board meeting as $90,326.
School board president Cindy Gustafson voted against the motion to keep the school open another year, saying that staffing ratios had been tightened so much elsewhere in the district that it isn’t fair to operate a school with such small class sizes.
“It is critical that we put our money in our problem areas. We are a program improvement district (under the No Child Left Behind Act), and we have to address those issues,” she said. “… I can’t support the motion. Funding and staffing ratios should be balanced across the district.”
Prior to the decision, the school board heard comments from Donner Trail parents. They argued the school supports the economic viability of Donner Summit, which is a growing community, according to Donner Summit Public Utility District demographic data.
Donner Summit parents disputed the superintendent’s proposal to relocate students to Glenshire Elementary School or Kings Beach Elementary School.
“Busing kids over two mountain passes (Brockway and Donner summits) is ludicrous, financially unsound and unsafe,” said Greg Murtha, a Donner Trail parent and marketing director at Sugar Bowl.
Parents also expressed their willingness to come up with a plan to raise money so the school can remain open.
“Donner Summit residents have no other local school option,” Murtha said. “The resorts of Donner Summit are ready to step up and raise the monies necessary for this school to survive.”
School board members said they had received hundreds of phone calls and e-mails about the proposal to close Donner Trail, a handfull of which were in favor of the closure. A vocal group of parents and teachers from other schools in the district attended the meeting to declare their support for Donner Trail’s closure.
Two other schools did not escape relocation at Wednesday night’s board meeting.
Students who attend Creekside Magnet and Coldstream Alternative schools, both located at the Rideout campus on the West Shore of Lake Tahoe, will be relocated to Tahoe Lake Elementary School in Tahoe City.
The future of the Creekside program is still uncertain. The school board has not decided whether it will move the magnet program to Tahoe Lake or disband the program and integrate the students in traditional classes at the elementary school.
Creekside’s Melissa Mohler spoke to the school board on behalf of the school’s parents, staff and 87 students.
“I hope you can help us with the transition,” she said. “It’s tough. These are going to be tough changes. It’s been a wonderful two years.”
“I would hope that if we have to do this, we can understand both sides and we can group together and merge,” Mohler added.
The move will save the district an estimated $106,850 per year.
The school board also cut transportation department administrative costs by $55,000 and reduced transportation operating costs by 10 percent, though how that reduction will be made is still unclear. The district also approved the proposition to sell 12 portables, which have a market rate of $10,000 each.
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