Mount Shasta Union School District trustees were urged to slow the process of consolidating campuses during a special board meeting that drew more than 100 people last week.

Mount Shasta Union School District trustees were urged to slow the process of consolidating campuses during a special board meeting that drew more than 100 people last week.

More than 30 parents, teachers and members of the community cited a variety of concerns, including: a lack of detailed information on possible savings from the move, the hurried nature of the proposed consolidation, the safety of young children and the desire to bring teachers and staff into the decision making process.

Trustees Paul Schwartz, John Duncan, Bob Winston and Chuck Rosecrantz listened to comments for about two hours in the Sisson gymnasium Tuesday, Feb. 26 before making brief comments and assuring the crowd their concerns will be taken into consideration. Trustee Leslie Cole was ill and did not attend.

“I haven’t seen a turnout like this in years,” said Rosecrantz, adding the consolidation of K-3 students at the Sisson campus is “a big decision.” He added his email box is completely full with people’s comments and concerns.

“This is a really important decision... Hopefully we make the right one,” said Winston. He thanked the crowd for the information and asked them to continue providing background information, facts and research to help him make the right choice.

In response to some speakers asking if there is a hidden agenda behind consolidation, Schwartz said there are none he’s aware of and everything the board does is in public.

Duncan said the board “doesn’t take concerns lightheartedly” and acknowledged that he heard at least 12 speakers mention a desire to slow the consolidation process. However, he said, he doesn’t want to see the process “come to a screeching halt.”

In a prepared statement, superintendent Kathi Emerson recommended the staff and community “work on an ongoing funding model, likely a bond election, and/or a workable plan to consolidate the schools a year from now.”

She warned that the district’s situation will “be more critical if we spend a year deficit spending, but a more critical situation may generate more cooperation between the stakeholders in the school community.”

She said a K-8 campus with one principal and one school office would save the district about $100,000 the first year and about $50,000 annually after that.

Community comments

Many in the audience said they’d like to see a more detailed outline of the potential savings as well as a breakdown of other cuts that could be made to save money before consolidating the schools.

Among them was former teacher and board member Jean Nels and former school superintendent and county Office of Education consultant Phil Ward.

Ward said MSE is an environment tailored to the needs of small children and urged the district to share alternatives with the public so everyone can assist in making this difficult decision.

Nels, who chose not to run for reelection on the November 2012 ballot, cited the poor morale of staff who feel they are not being included in the process. She said Californians voted for Proposition 30 because they feel education is important and urged the board to slow the process so the community is not upset unnecessarily.

Nancy Van Susteren, who has two adult children who attended the Mount Shasta school system, called attention to a 25 year $2.2 million bond measure that was approved by 72.5 percent of Mount Shasta voters in 1997 to build the cafeteria/library building at MSE. The bond will not be repaid until 2022, and if MSE closes for grades K-3 that facility will remain unused by the children it was built for, she said.

Van Susteren also urged the board not to overlook the historical and cultural nature of the elementary school.

Chris Marrone, who spoke for longer than the allotted three minutes per person, also called attention to the bond and said “financial necessity is the only reason I can see to move forward” with consolidation.

Marrone added the process has been “chaotic” and feels the decision to merge the schools may lower enrollment and thereby decrease funding rather than saving money.

Beverly Shannon said there are signs the local real estate market is starting to stabilize. She worries that with the move, Sisson would be at capacity and not capable of handling additional students if there was growth in the community.

Teachers speak

Among the teachers who spoke at the meeting were Julie Bennett, Juliane Tinsman, Cheryl Keiner, Leslie Marconi and Stacia Hardy. Many other teachers from both MSE and Sisson attended.

Tinsman, who has taught at both campuses over the past nine years, said both schools are “unique, very special places.” Walking through the halls at MSE, you can “feel the sweetness of childhood,” Tinsman said, adding it’s a place where parents want their children to spend time.

Tinsman said she is not strongly for or against consolidation, but worries that steps have been skipped in the plan’s implementation.

“Six months is a short time,” she said, adding that with the formation of a magnet school and state-imposed program improvement, teachers already have “a full plate.”

“Investigation is generally painless,” said Keiner. “Let’s take our time to study this monumental decision and its probable long-lasting impacts.”

Marconi said studies have shown that consolidation of schools may not always be beneficial for districts. She said those children who leave the district – unless they’re moving out of the area – are not doing so to attend larger schools, but instead smaller, more intimate charter schools.

Superintendent’s response

“I recognize that our budget picture is not entirely defined, but we don’t expect increases in funding to keep pace with losses of revenue due to declining enrollment,” Emerson said in her statement. “We will continue to face tough decisions about facilities, staffing and programs... If we do not consolidate the schools this year, the question will continue to come up.”

Emerson said the district has been studying consolidation for several years, and the most recent study concluded with a recommendation to consider consolidation if enrollment reaches 500 and the budget is still a concern.

“In the past five years district enrollment has declined from 628 to 518, a drop of 17 percent,” Emerson said. “The budget has declined from $5,200,000 to $3,800,000, a drop of 27 percent.”

With such a decline in both enrollment and funding, Emerson said it “makes sense” that the board consider whether the same school structures in place for a larger student body still meet the needs of today’s district.

Next step

The issue of consolidation is on the Tuesday, March 12 board meeting’s agenda as an action item.

The meeting begins at 7 p.m. at the District Office, located near the Mount Shasta Library.