My Turn: School debate should stay on facts

Chris Anderson
My Turn

We all know that everyone loves a parade. It turns out that everyone loves a debate, too. A good old-fashioned American debate with opposing ideas and philosophies clashing like the meeting of two great oceans. Exciting stuff, to be sure. And when the debate is public, where each of us as citizens has not only an interest in listening and learning from both sides, but a responsibility to become informed on the debated issues, the stakes are even higher.

North Tahoe is facing such a debate right now. A local group of parents, upset about the recent decision to reconfigure Tahoe Lake and Kings Beach Elementary schools, is attempting to recall three school board members who they feel responsible for this decision. Of course this is their right, and nobody would suggest otherwise. However, it is extremely important that the debate facing us as citizens is based on clear and accurate information regarding the issues that are upsetting to this group. I recently had a chance to read the complaints about the board on the original recall petition and was quite surprised to find that many of those complaints were not accurate. Let’s have the debate, but let’s have it based on information that is accurate, complete, and in the proper context. Without real information there is no opportunity for real debate.

The following seven points on the original petition require clarification. Some are just completely mistaken, while others need to be placed in context.

The petition blames the school board for suggesting that the district reconfigure all middle school students to Alder Creek, and all High School students to North Tahoe.

First of all, this was only a suggestion, something to be talked about, which it was. Ultimately this suggestion was rejected by the board, based largely on input it received from the public. But there are other, more troubling inaccuracies regarding this accusation.

That proposal was not suggested by the school board at all, but rather was brought up by middle school administrators and staff in an effort to provide the most comprehensive educational model for students in the face of the current budget deficit. After hearing the suggestion from these administrators, board members directed the administration to conduct a public meeting to gather community input on the proposal, and after hearing that input decided against the proposal, directing the administration to look for other alternatives that kept schools operating in both the North Tahoe and Truckee communities.

Middle school administrators suggested this proposal because they worried about being able to provide a comprehensive program given the allocations available at each school site. In the best interest of the education of Middle School students, they came up with an and#8220;out of the boxand#8221; idea that attempted to solve problems during this difficult financial time. As mentioned above, the concerns of the community were heard, and the idea was scrapped.

The petition complains that the board will and#8220;and#8230;lay off 15 to 46 percent of full time certificated teachers”.

The district does not want to lay off any teachers at all, and there are no plans to lay off the number of teachers quoted in this petition. The complaint in the petition really should be directed at two things: California State Law and the current California State Budget.

California State Law requires that all teachers who might be laid off be notified by March 15th. Many of you may remember that the California Legislature took their sweet time approving a budget this year, not approving the budget until February 20th. The budget that was passed was dependent on five ballot initiatives passing. Those initiatives did not pass, leaving a budget nightmare for the state and for our district. The delay and resulting budget mess (a mess still not resolved) left the school district in an extremely awkward position. Because of the continued complex financial issues and the impending legally required date of notification for teachers who might have to be laid off, the district was forced to and#8220;over-noticeand#8221; teachers, that is send notices to teachers for whom there was only a chance that they might be laid off. Teachers are well aware of this law, and aware that a notice does not mean they will be laid off, only that the possibility exists. Even now, at this late date, the district does not know how much money it will have available on which to operate. Blaming the board and school district for this extremely unfortunate budget circumstance and for following the legal requirement of notification is a case of blaming the messenger, and far from fair.

3) “Approved Resolution 19-0809 (Configuration B)… noticed only 24 hours in advance without sufficient time for public review and comment.”

The decision to reconfigure was made after years of public comment and debate, including the Lake Side Task Force 6 years ago, TTRAC last year (a committee formed to evaluate issues with local schools including program improvement, space and resource considerations, reconfiguration options, etc.), twenty public budget forums this year alone, board workshops with various sub-committees reporting, two public forums for the middle school proposal, a board meeting where options A and B were presented, and more public comment the following night when the vote was actually taken. Those who would complain that the process leading up to this decision was rushed and without public input or comment were most likely only involved in the very last stages of the process.

4) “Reconfiguration will increase class sizes.”

Reconfiguration has nothing to do with increasing class sizes. This may occur because of budget issues, nothing else. Eighty percent of a school district’s budget goes to people. The three main areas that affect a district’s budget are:

1) Salaries

2) Class size

3) Number of school sites (small schools are less efficient than large schools)

TTUSD teachers recently received a 9 percent pay raise in 3 increments of 3% throughout the year. Administrators agreed to forego their raise this year to help the district manage the current financial crises. As of this writing, the teachers are unwilling to do the same. If they were to forego even a portion of that raise, the school district could bring back more teachers, which would bring down class sizes and also save the jobs of teachers who may have to be laid off otherwise. Other public employee unions throughout the state are doing just this, giving a little as individuals to help the whole. If the cost of salaries for the district can not be brought down, and if school sites are not closed, the only area left where the district can meet the shortfalls of the current budget is class size. Most districts in the state are being forced to increase class sizes in these difficult economic times. Fortunately, our district currently has one of the lowest student/teacher ratios (class size) in the state.

5) “Replace highly qualified teachers with bi-lingual teachers”.

Because TTUSD has 25% to 30% English Learner students throughout the district, it is important to retain teachers who are certified by the State of California as qualified bi-lingual teachers, not just to aid students, but also to make sure every school in the district has the ability to communicate with all parents. Bi-clad certification is the most common skipping criteria in the state of California, and teachers who have taken the time and effort to earn this certification are extremely valuable to most California school districts, and are considered highly qualified. Credit was also given to teachers who had experience working as academic coaches, teaching AP classes, and teaching higher-level mathematics classes in the area of calculus. These decisions were made in accordance with the California Education Code.

6) “North Tahoe Middle School is not configured to serve elementary studentsand#8221;

It has only been a few years since 4th and 5th graders have attended Tahoe Lake. Because of space issues, 4th and 5th graders attended Rideout Elementary until about 4 years ago. It wasn’t until Rideout closed that 4th and 5th graders moved to Tahoe Lake. Having 4th and 5th graders at a campus other than Tahoe Lake is nothing new. The brand new, centrally located, state of the art North Tahoe Middle school facility has more than enough space to accommodate additional elementary students. The elementary school children will be in a self contained classroom, will use a separate library, will have an age appropriate playground, and will be on a separate bell schedule. Contact with middle and high school students will be very minimal.

and#8220;Configuration B will not improve mathematics nor science education in a district where 35% to 62% of high school students are currently below or far below basic competency based on 2008 California Star results.and#8221; and#8211;

The purpose of moving to a new educational model with Professional Learning Communities and intervention/enrichment periods for all students is to address academic achievement for all students at all levels. This decision was made after years of research, and is supported by data and studies showing that the new educational model will be better for all students in the district in all academic areas.

Keep in mind that the circumstances, crises, and issues facing the current board will still exist whether this board remains in tact or not. The board has spent years researching educational options, listening to public feed back, and working with the administrations of our local schools to try to solve the longstanding problems that face the entire district. All that work will be lost if this board is removed at this point. As you formulate your opinion on this matter, ask yourself if the expense and continued turmoil and rancor the recall process creates within the North Tahoe and Truckee communities is worth it. Of course, that is a personal question, and each of us as individuals will have to make his or her own decision, but make sure that decision is based on the facts, not on hearsay, rumors, or worst of all, misinformation.

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