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Parents protest charter school funding

Amanda Butler, Sierra Sun

Most thought that the battle to receive Measure A funds would end when the tax was renewed by voters in March.

Unfortunately, the battle is just beginning to heat up.

Measure A is a parcel tax that helps fund school programs including music classes, computer labs and instructional supplies. It is estimated to pull in about $2.6 million dollars a year and is supposed to help schools throughout the district.

As a charter school, Prosser Creek is semi-autonomous from the district. It operates on its own without any direct supervision from the Truckee Tahoe Unified School District (TTUSD). But the school is sponsored by the district, and handles 171 students that live within the district’s boundaries.

Measure A campaign literature sent out by the district in the beginning of the year promised that the money would help benefit all students within the district, including the charter school.

The question that remains: exactly how much money should the charter school get from Measure A tax revenue?

It is the purpose of the Measure A Citizen’s Review Committee to make a recommendation to the school board on how the funds should be divided among schools.

On April 5, that committee approved a draft proposal created by Pat Gemma and other school administrators that would give a little under $18,000 of the estimated $2.6 million raised per year from the tax to Prosser Creek.

In a special closed session TTUSD board meeting held Monday, Prosser Creek parents showed up to voice their concerns about the draft proposal.

“I am a voter, a parcel tax owner and a parent of a student who attends Prosser Creek Charter School,” said Janice Comstock, the first member of the audience that was allowed to speak in front of the board. She went on to say she thought the proposed distribution for the Measure A funds was unfair and discriminatory against the charter school.

Several other parents expressed their concerns.

“I find $17,000 to be appalling,” said one parent.

“I was assured that our children would not be discriminated against,” said another. “The board should see that every child within the district is given the same consideration.”

Some parents hinted that they could consider legal action against the district if their funding needs were not met.

In the draft budget for Measure A funds, Truckee Elementary receives a total of $327,931 and Glenshire Elementary gets $253,970. But both of those schools have larger enrollment figures than Prosser Creek.

Jayna Gaskell, the executive director of Prosser Creek Charter School, is looking for somewhere in the range of $100,000 to hire a counselor, a music teacher and a part-time nurse.

She was on hand at the board meeting and passed out a statement of the school’s frustrations.

“We were not included in the budget process,” said Gaskell. “The funding that was proposed for (the charter school) is only a fraction of the amount allotted for any other school in the district.”

She went on, “By taking the stance, publicly stated, that he is not responsible for the best interests of all the students in the district if that includes PCCS students, Dr. Gemma is turning his back on a decision made by the school board that supported creating alternatives to traditional schools and the families whose needs are served by them.”

She concluded her concerns by noting, “Most importantly, all of the students of our community lose when we are divided and take sides. When we choose competition instead of cooperation.”

In a move that seems to support this last point, the TTUSD board decided during the closed session to form a task force of representatives from the charter school and the district to develop a plan that will allow both to share resources.

In a statement released on Wednesday the board reported, “(We) have agreed to continue and enhance our collaborative efforts (with PCCS) … the task force will develop within six months an action plan designed to demonstrate mutually beneficial ways to share resources.”

The statement said that the board will wait for the recommendation of the review committee before they make any decisions regarding the distribution of Measure A funds.

For now, parents of charter school students are left hoping that a solution can be reached.

After meeting with school administrators on Tuesday, Gaskell is hopeful that the new task force will ease some of the mounting tensions.

“I’m really excited about the task force,” said Gaskell. “It’s a positive thing. We want to find a way to work together so that our students can get access to programs they need, and which their parents pay for through Measure A, without having to take away from programs already established in the district.”

This is a point Gemma has been firm on from day one.

He says the district’s financial responsibility is to the students that remain in the district’s traditional schools.

“I just can’t give more to (Prosser Creek) at the expense of our students,” said Gemma.

The next meeting of the citizen’s review committee will be held Tuesday, May 8. A final recommendation of funding could be made at that time.


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