SUHSD: McCloud High School to remain open

Skye Kinkade

McCloud High School will remain open next year, even though Siskiyou Union High School District is risking $300,000 if its Necessary Small School funding is not approved.

District superintendent Mike Matheson said SUHSD had a choice to either close McCloud High now and move staff to open positions at other schools or keep the school open and take a chance that the Necessary Small School funding will be denied, which would result in a one-time $300,000 loss.

If they closed McCloud High now and moved staff, the District would still lose about $150,000, Matheson told trustees Lori Harch, Gregg Gunkel, Sue Tavalero, Jay Clark, John Hines, Jana Blevins and Margaret DeBortoli during their regular meeting last Wednesday at Weed High.

However, if they close McCloud now and learn later that it could have brought in funding, the district would be “closing a school prematurely” and losing much needed funds, Matheson said.

The District probably won’t know how it will pan out until mid-year next school year, after money has already been spent to operate the school, according to Matheson.

The confusion is being created by a new Local Control Funding Formula put forward by Governor Jerry Brown and “conflicting” policies in the 2013/2014 state budget, Matheson said.

The plan contains “many positive components for education,” he said. In general, it should increase school funding and allows districts to manage special interest funds as they see fit.

Under the new formula, schools will receive a per-pupil base grant, used to support the basic costs of instruction and operations. Supplemental grants will be given to schools based on their demographics. For instance, schools with more English learners, foster children or economically disadvantaged students would receive extra grants from the state.

However, language in the legislative draft is seen as a problem for small schools including McCloud High and Dunsmuir High School, since it changes the requirements for Necessary Small Schools and transfers ability to declare an NSS from Siskiyou County Superintendent of Schools Kermith Walters to the State Superintendent of Schools.

Under this new language, small schools that have less than 100 students and are less than 10 miles from another school will no longer be designated as an NSS.

Despite the confusion, Matheson said Walters is suggesting school districts move forward as if NSS funding will come through. Matheson said there will most likely be a waiver or process to help declare McCloud as geographically isolated so it can continue to be an NSS.

“I can’t recommend closing McCloud right now, not after the work we’ve done with the McCloud community,” Matheson told the board. “So much is up in the air.”

Matheson said it would be difficult to close McCloud High in the next two months and suggested the board “not do anything drastic” before June 27, when a special meeting has been scheduled to approve next year’s budget.

Speaking during public comment on the issue was Mary Butzlaff, who has been the secretary at McCloud High for the past nine years. She urged the board to find an alternate use for the school building if they must close it as an education center.

She said it would be “a travesty” to see the beautiful building sit empty and added it would be a huge blow to the community of McCloud if it were closed.

Going to Common Core

Next year Common Core standards will be begin to be implemented and only some STAR testing will be administered to sophomores and juniors, Matheson said.

The new “New Balance” tests are all computer based and ask students to demonstrate a greater “depth of knowledge” compared to the STAR standardized tests.

This will help save time, paper and money for the district and will be scored within a matter of days, rather than weeks, Matheson said.

Going digital

Using federal Timber Reserve and new Common Core funding, each of the district’s incoming freshman will be issued a Chromebook device in August.

The district is currently working on specific policy and use requirements for students, Matheson said.

The switch to Chromebooks will replace textbooks in some instances and will allow students to have access to “a vast array of educational materials.”

The Chromebooks have about a four year lifespan, Matheson said. Each year, the district plans to purchase a new batch of the laptops for incoming freshman, and replacing them will be a one-time annual cost.

Matheson said some school districts have a plan which allows graduating seniors to purchase their devices, allowing the school to reinvest in the program.

Graduation attire

The board also discussed some unrest over Weed High School’s graduation attire requirements. Matheson explained Weed High has always held traditional, formal graduation ceremonies, which means no additions to the traditional cap and gown.

Before Weed’s graduation on June 6, students were told they are not allowed to decorate their hats, which caused some uproar, though new hats were purchased and everyone abided by the guidelines on graduation night, Matheson said.

In Happy Camp, however, a student who was told they were not allowed to wear a traditional Native American cap did so anyway during their commencement ceremony.

Matheson said the graduation was not disrupted, but the issue has grown larger and he warned board members they may receive calls from the media.

He said the decision about whether students may decorate their caps or bounce beach balls during the ceremony is a school site decision.

Many of the board members indicated they are in favor of keeping the ceremony traditional and suggested education about what the cap and gown signify.

Blevins said the board should keep an open mind about graduation attire in the future.

Matheson said graduations are put on the school and are a reflection of what the community wants to see, and in Weed’s and Happy Camp’s case, that is a traditional ceremony.

Next meeting

The board will meet next on June 27 during a special meeting. Their next regular meeting will be in Happy Camp on Wednesday, July 10 beginning at 4 p.m.