School district hears from parents on budget moves
TRUCKEE ” Representatives from the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District this week proposed to send all of the district’s middle school students to Alder Creek Middle School in Truckee next year.
The school combination, proposed at a parents meeting Tuesday night, could improve the education for students at a precariously functioning North Tahoe Middle School, district administration said. The school would be staffed for about 10 teachers and could not adequately serve the student population, administrators explained.
A combined middle school, said Alder Creek Principal Susan Phebus, could serve all students with a full schedule and a full elective slate. Phebus also said a combined school would allow teachers to collaborate more extensively.
Some parents openly questioned the move, which the district said would net a savings of about $250,000 in the face of an approximate $4 million projected budget deficit for the 2009-10 school year.
But, as district’s Board of Trustees members said at their Wednesday night meeting, the move is to improve the students’ education, not the district’s financial situation.
Parent Stan Scott said he didn’t believe the district would realize the educational benefits it was touting.
“I don’t buy it at all,” said Scott, a parent of elementary school children in North Lake Tahoe. “I’m really happy with the way things are going now, and I worry about my kids’ quality of life if they are spending a couple of hours a day on a bus just to get to school.”
In a phone interview, Tahoe City resident and parent Neil Morse said the move would drastically alter the North Shore community in a negative way.
“My major issue with the restructuring is that these are neighborhood schools,” Morse said. “They are the core feature of any community… and when you’re taking away our community school where our children go to school with the same kids, it jumbles us up as a community.”
Morse said it would stress his family, as his wife volunteers at Tahoe Lake Elementary.
“Would my wife be expected to drive up to Truckee to volunteer in the class? What about all the other parents who help out, the people we see every day when I drive two minutes from home to drop my kid off at school?” Morse asked.
For parents like Lilia Suter, who lives in Truckee and has a sixth grader, the commute wouldn’t change, but she fears the quality of education would.
“I have reservations about it, definitely,” Suter said. “If we’re only going to have only 27 teachers and more English language learners, how is that going to affect my student, who is on the upper end of the class?”
Suter said the plan didn’t sound like it saved “an awful lot” of money.
Chuck Avery, an Alder Creek Middle School parent, said he supported the move.
“II think it seems to make sense from an educational and cost savings standpoint,” Avery said.
Superintendent Steve Jennings said the restructuring proposal would need to be approved by the board quickly in order for the district to apply it next year.
Jennings said he’d like any action be taken before mid-April and said any delay makes it hard for the district to put the necessary plans in place to close North Tahoe Middle School in time.
He also did not rule out combining one or both of the North Lake Tahoe elementary schools ” Tahoe Lake and Kings Beach ” into the empty North Tahoe Middle School site.
Jennings presented the comments collected Tuesday at Alder Creek and North Tahoe Middle School to the district board at its Wednesday meeting.
Comments ran the gamut, but many opposed the reconfiguration as too inconvenient.
At this week’s district board meeting, residents and board members also questioned why expenses increased so dramatically to compound the budget deficit.
Board member Lisa Mohun asked Steve Dickinson, the district’s Assistant Superintendent of Business, to elaborate on the district’s financial situation.
“I think we need to explain how we got to this point,” Mohun said.
Dickinson said during the years of high growth in the Tahoe-Truckee area earlier this decade, the majority-property tax funded district saw a steep increase in revenue.
Meanwhile, the district’s expenses increased at the same steep pitch, and when the property tax revenue slowed to next year’s projection of about 3 percent instead of the double-digit gains it saw earlier this decade, the district’s projected shortfall grew. That’s when they knew it was in trouble.
As members of the board reiterated, the proposal to combine middle schools is not a financial move, but rather an educational one that serves all students and gets the district out of the sights of No Child Left Behind Act’s program improvement.
And, while the proposal isn’t ideal and could cause inconveniences for parents, Kraus said it’s best for the district.
“The status quo doesn’t work. Our goal here is to change our educational model,” said board member Bill Kraus. “We have to realize our constraint is we have less resources… and the trick is to retool so we can be more effective with less. Look, in the real world there are going to be inconveniences… but people need to understand we need to have some solution, saying no just isn’t good enough.”
Mohun said the board needed to be sensitive to parents who have concerns about the distance between the lake and Truckee, but Kraus said sacrifices must be made to satisfy the educational model.
Phebus and Teresa Rensch, North Tahoe Middle School’s principal, said they would go back and look for other options regarding the middle schools.