Petition opposes school closures | SierraSun.com

Petition opposes school closures

Andrew Cristancho
Sierra Sun
Andrew Cristancho/Sierra SunNell Jackson, right, asks Bonnie Birdsall to sign a petition asking the Tahoe-Truckee school district not to close local schools if recommended by a restructuring advisory committee.
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More than 150 parents have signed a petition opposing the consolidation of neighborhood schools in the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District, saying it would force some students to ride the bus to more distant schools.

In response to the district’s formation of the Tahoe-Truckee Restructuring and Reconfiguration Committee, a group of parents drafted the petition and gathered 160 signatures in less than a week, according to Sydney Earley, one member of the parents group.

The petition outlines their concerns over options proposed at the committee’s second meeting, held Nov. 26 in Tahoe City. The options included changing district boundaries and shuffling grade levels, introducing the possibility of more bus time for children.

The committee is an advisory body that will present recommendations to the district board of trustees by February.

Administrators did not discuss the possible closure of any of the district’s 11 schools at the meeting. But some parents said they were concerned that if Tahoe City’s elementary school is turned into a fourth- and fifth-grade school, their children in other grades would be bused to Kings Beach, and vice versa.

“We live in Rubicon Bay and for me, the prospect of transporting our kids, even on a clear day ” it is not an option,” said parent Heather Rantz. “My kids would be on the bus for three hours per day. We’d have to move.”

The district’s transportation manager, Nanette Rondeau, said the additional travel would not be as time-consuming as the parents feared.

“It would be an additional 25 to 30 minutes, with a total of not more than 45 minutes,” she said in a phone interview.

Still, many parents said they are worried about the extra travel time and the possible loss of local schools. On Wednesday, one parent spoke up during the public-comment portion of the district board meeting, and announced the start of the signature drive.

“We heard about the busing option, and we want that taken off the table,” Sydney Earley told the five elected trustees.

Another parent who worked on the petition, Stacey Herhusky, raised other concerns.

“I find it frustrating that it is the lake side [they are looking at],” Herhusky said. “Tahoe Lake is the highest-scoring [advanced placement] school in the district ” it is a well-functioning school.”

District officials said grappling with declining enrollment has forced them to look at the district’s educational programs and teacher assignments more closely in order to better use its limited funds.

Yet, some parents question the timing of the restructuring drive, saying enrollment increased in the district’s Tahoe Basin elementary schools for the first time since 2001.

Some, like Rantz, say they believe Tahoe is experiencing a baby boom. Rantz represents the Tahoe Mother’s club, a group of about 80 families with children who have not reached school age.

“The other thing you can plan on is families are on the rise, we’re coming back,” Rantz said. “I’d hate to see us doing this restructuring thing only to have to undo it ” it would be an absolute hardship.”

At the November committee meeting, district administrator Todd Rivera disclosed that North Tahoe High and Middle School had experienced the most severe declines in enrollment in the district. Asked if that would mean the district might close a Basin school, district consultant Carol Brush denied that a closure was part of the district’s game plan.

“I think that isn’t true,” said Brush, adding that she can recall being bused as a child from Kings Beach to Truckee High School in the 1960s. But she said any alternative remains possible in light of falling student numbers.

“[The trustees] have really said, multiple times, the committee [should] come up with their best ideas,” Brush said. “[The board] has been great about saying we really have no non-negotiables.”

Yet some parents now hope the district will respect their bottom line: No neighborhood school closures and no busing far from home.

“Our fears are really immediate ” as soon as we heard ‘bus,’ we wanted to be right out of the gate on that,” Earley said to the trustees on Wednesday. “We don’t want that to be the solution