Mount Shasta Elementary gets one year reprieve

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Union School District trustees John Duncan (third from left), Leslie Cole, Chuck Rosecrantz, Bob Winston and Paul Schwartz decided March 12 to postpone the consolidation of MSE and Sisson until next spring. Also pictured are district secretary Mary Alice Haistings and superintendent Kathi Emerson (speaking in the microphone.) Photo by Skye Kinkade

Mount Shasta Union School District trustees last night put off a decision of whether to consolidate Mount Shasta Elementary and Sisson schools until next spring, pending a possible parcel tax that could help keep the "little school" open.

Though trustee Paul Schwartz said he's supportive of consolidation, which superintendent Kathi Emerson estimates would save between $100,000 and $150,000 annually, trustees Leslie Cole and Bob Winston brought forward the idea of a parcel tax which, if passed by the community, could keep MSE open.

During the March 12 meeting, which lasted more than three hours, the board also unanimously approved a pilot "Magnet School" program to begin next year that will immerse 2nd through 5th grade students in science and art. Two positions will immediately be created, and after teachers are hired, the program will begin to be defined, said Emerson.

The program, consisting of two multi-age classrooms, will be modeled after the John Muir School in Ashland, Ore.

Consolidation postponed, parcel tax proposed

"I see a lot of opportunity," said Schwartz after about two hours of public comment, adding that he believes the advantages of such a move have been "overshadowed with emotion."

"I don't see (consolidation) as a bad thing... maintaining status quo for the sake of maintaining status quo would be detrimental," said Schwartz, though he said he does empathize with those that are attached to MSE.

Schwartz pointed out that testing scores have gone down over the past two and a half years since the schools have been sharing a principal. He said instructional leadership of a full-time principal might help maximize student achievement, which is one of the district's stated goals.

Emerson said the district is existing on a bare bones budget and many cuts have already been made. This year, the cuts seeped into the classroom with a reduction in PE services, library services and larger class sizes in some cases. She said the district is whittling down its reserves and at some point, those reserves will be gone.

In response to the public's questions regarding exactly how much will be saved through consolidation, Emerson said precise figures would be difficult to calculate until the district gets there, but she feels something must be done to stop the hemorrhage. Emerson added that she, too, loves MSE and if possible, would like it to remain open.

"We cannot create a budget on hope," Schwartz said in response to public comments that enrollment and the budget may improve. "Consolidation would be a good thing for our community."

Though Schwartz said he's heard protest from parents, teachers, and the friends and families of these parents and teachers, "I don't believe this represents broad-based community opposition."

Trustee Chuck Rosecrantz said he sees things "a little differently" than Schwartz.

"It's great to have the little school. I went there myself," Rosecrantz said. "This is a democracy, and I heard ya."

"I love the little school too," said Winston. "But at what price do we keep it open?"

Winston warned that the district's budgetary issues will not go away and "bake sales aren't gonna do it."

Fundraising options need to be more structured, and the community needs to show its support of MSE if it is to remain open, he said. He suggested a parcel tax as a way the community might be able to do that.

Winston said he'd like to "delay action on consolidation and allow students and teachers to continue to enjoy the school and the memories we have, and the benefits to the kids" while a parcel tax is investigated.

Cole compared MSE to an ideal and picturesque "Norman Rockwell" school but also worries about the costs of keeping it open.

"Kale (Riccomini) runs back and forth putting out fires... we are missing the educational strand" of instructional leadership, Cole said.

However, Cole believes the community should be able to vote on the situation in some way, and a parcel tax would give them that chance. She requested Emerson look for a professional consultant who could guide the district and the community in pursuing such an option.

"Next year, if it's passed, that saves the school for the next five or six years, and that might give us enough time to get past our budget problems," Cole said. "If not, we'll have no option but consolidation."

Trustee John Duncan warned the public that getting a parcel tax passed may be difficult.

"Quite frankly, I've had calls from people supporting consolidation that will probably not support a parcel tax," Duncan said.

Schwartz said a parcel tax "seems selfish" and said a facilities decision seems like "a much better decision" than asking the public to pay more taxes for education, which the state is supposed to be providing already.

"I think the community deserves a chance to vote," Cole said again. "They can choose to fund their kids' education, but the clock is ticking."

Cole made a motion to table consolidation until February 2014, when she asked for it to appear on the agenda as a discussion item. Winston seconded the motion and it was unanimously approved.