Nevada County schools have navigated some rough waters in recent years.
Between countywide declining enrollment and statewide cuts to education funding, school boards have made tough decisions to keep their schools afloat.
There have been teacher layoffs, charter schools have opened to retain students, programs have been cut, facilities shuffled, inter-district transfers eliminated, bus routes consolidated and even mergers with other districts are being pursued — all in an effort to save money.
In addition to the school board seats up for grabs in the November election, voters will be asked to decide whether to increase taxes, statewide and in some cases locally, to fund education.
In the kindergarten through eighth grade districts of Nevada City and Pleasant Ridge, voters will be asked to retain current board members or bring in fresh faces. And western Nevada County voters will also be asked the same question in two races for the high school district’s board of trustees.
Nevada Joint Union High School District
The high school district encompasses 782 square miles of mostly rural western Nevada County and a small portion of Yuba County, including Grass Valley and Nevada City, said Karen Suenram, the district’s assistant superintendent.
With an approximately $30 million budget, the district operates nine schools, including two comprehensive high schools, four continuation high schools and two alternative high schools, in addition to programs supporting adult education, Suenram said.
Approximately 3,500 students attend the district’s schools. The most prominent schools in the district are Nevada Union and Bear River high schools.
Representation on the district’s board of trustees is determined by dividing the district boundaries into five trustee areas. In this 2012 election cycle, two of those trustee areas are up for grabs: areas three and four.
Area 3 begins at the county’s western border and follows its northwestern boundary as far east as Tyler Foote Road.
It reaches as far south as Perimeter Road and as far east as slightly past Wolf Creek, but does not include Grass Valley. It does encompass Penn Valley, Lake Wildwood, Rough and Ready and part of the North San Juan community.
Katy Schwarz, the district’s current board president, is defending the Area 3 seat she has held for the last eight years from challenger Jim Drew, a former agricultural teacher and teachers union leader. This isn’t the first time Drew has thrown his hat in the ring. In September 2011, he was ultimately not chosen by the sitting members to fill a board vacancy.
“I have classroom experience of more than 36 years as a teacher,” Drew said, adding the school board needs the insight of someone with “real education experience in the trenches.”
Drew said he would like the board to listen to the community more than he perceives they have in the past.
“Teachers seem to be treated with a lot of disrespect and I’d like to change that,” he said.
But Schwarz said the board is already transparent. She invites the public to come to meetings and give their input and ask questions. Schwarz says she has no agenda, other than to keep the quality of programs and ensure students have a good education.
“I have no special interest that I am beholden to,” Schwarz said.
She isn’t the only sitting high school board member contended in this election. Local businessman Jim Adams, who represents trustee Area 4, is facing two contenders.
The west border of high school district Area 4 begins at Allison Ranch Road, its north border follows Idaho Maryland Road and cuts southeastern along Red Dog Road. Its southern border follows Alta Sierra and Mount Olive drives.
Area 4 encompasses parts of southeastern Grass Valley, Cedar Ridge and parts of Alta Sierra and Chicago Park.
Union Hill School falls into trustee Area 4.
Adams, a regional vice president of Ray Morgan, was appointed to the seat in September 2011 to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of former board President Mark Heauser. In running to solidify his appointment in the election, Adams is challenged by Paul Aguilar and Cindy Latimer.
“I understand the school board now,” Adams said. “I have good rapport with the administration, the principal, with teachers and students. I think that is a really valuable asset to have.”
In addition to his time on the board, Adams has spent the last decade working with students from NU, Earle Jamison and Park Avenue campuses.
Aguilar, the co-owner of A&A Air Conditioning, Heating & Sheet Metal, is an NU alumnus and has 14 collective years on the Nevada County and Grass Valley planning commissions.
“I would bring a fresh set of eyes,” Aguilar said. “Having business in contracting in this economic climate, I’m used to looking for the most bang for my buck.”
With his previous government experience, Aguilar said he would have a more critical eye than his fellow candidates. He said the board should always do what is in the best interest of the students.
Latimer, a retired nurse, said she has the time to dedicate to serving the district as if it were her full-time job.
“Rather than sitting idly on the sidelines and passing judgments on the current state of education in our high school district, I would like to offer my experience and problem-solving skills, and become part of the dedicated group of individuals who truly have our students’ as their number one priority,” Latimer said.
Adams pointed to Latimer’s and Aguilar’s significant others working in the district as ties that may influence their decisions, if elected.
“However, if they were to win, I would do everything to help them as they went into office,” Adams said. “I want the best candidate to win.”
All five candidates in both high school races said the biggest issue and their top priority in the coming term would be to keep the district’s budget out of the red.
Nevada City School District Board
Nevada City School District’s boundaries encompass approximately 150 square miles. With an annual budget of approximately $6.4 million, Nevada City operates three schools — an elementary and middle school, as well as a charter school — where nearly 900 students attend, according to Superintendent Roxanne Gilpatric.
In this 2012 election cycle, two board of trustees’ seats are open — those belonging to board President Paula Campbell and Trish Gerving.
Contending the two incumbents is Erin Ruark-Minett, a retired preschool teacher and a member of the neighborhood organization Friends of Nevada City Elementary, which lobbied against the 2010 closure of that school amid plummeting property tax revenue and a $1.4 million gap in the district’s then $9 million budget.
The two top vote-getters out of the three candidates will be awarded the open seats.
Ruark-Minett was made the sole contender when fellow Friends of NCE member Augustine del Valle backed out of the election on Sept. 12, after he had already submitted candidacy papers.
Even though del Valle will appear on the ballot, he has no intention of serving on the board, he told The Union in September, citing unforeseen increased professional demands.
Campbell, who as served on the board since 1992 and is its current president, listed the district’s finances as her top priority.
“It is important to have continuity on the board,” Campbell said. “A level of experience (is needed) that will support different and complicated and ever-changing decisions on our board and will continue for the next couple years.”
Gerving, an accountant who has sat on the board for 12 years, said her priority is to improve student learning and said that is the biggest issue before the board in the coming years.
“With my accounting background, I feel very comfortable looking at a school budget,” Gerving said. “That is something that somebody on the board has to be able to understand with the challenges before us.”
Ruark-Minett says the board needs new blood. One approach she would like to instill would be to listen to teachers more, she said, adding that the educational faculty has been ostracized from decision making.
“Teachers are the ones who are in the classroom,” Ruark-Minett said. “They have the experience and training to inform us of what’s working and what can work better here. We need to bring them in on the important decisions.”
Perhaps where Minett differs most with the incumbents is her position against the district’s ongoing talks with Grass Valley School District, exploring the possibility of consolidating the two districts.
“I still haven’t seen anything that suggests to me that consolidation is a good idea,” Minett said.
Both Campbell and Gerving said they feel it is prudent to continue to explore the consolidation until there is evidence that it would not be a feasible or a cost-effective prospect, they said.
Outside the election, another seat on the Nevada City school board is also poised for a new face — one that will be appointed rather than elected.
Amy Wiser, who moved to New York for her husband’s job, resigned from the board in early September.
The district has twice extended the deadline for potential appointees to submit candidacy applications to the district. The new deadline for applications is Oct. 11 at 3 p.m. with candidate interviews taking place in public at the board’s Oct. 30 meeting. The deadline was extended a second time because not all of the three current applicants could attend the previously scheduled meeting, Gilpatric said.
Pleasant Ridge School District
Located in south Nevada County, Pleasant Ridge has an approximate $11 million budget to oversee three school sites, including two elementary schools and a middle school that houses grades six through eight.
Those schools draw students from approximately 95 square miles that include the communities of Alta Sierra, Lake of the Pines and Lake Wildwood. Most of the district’s approximately 1,420 students go on to Bear River High School.
Both of the district’s incumbents in this 2012 election cycle were appointed within the last year to fill board vacancies.
Scott Hopper, a Realtor, was appointed in March to replace LeeAnn Halleib. Robert Tice-Raskin, an attorney, was appointed in June to replace Roger White. The two appointed incumbents are challenged by newcomer Mary Newberry, a retired teacher with 34 years in the district.
Hopper’s top priority if elected would be to maintain high quality education with limited financial resources, he said.
“I don’t think this is the time to have someone who doesn’t have a child in the district. Rob and I both do,” Hopper said. “Mary, she has no business experience outside of classroom. She is a retired Pleasant Ridge School District employee and a union negotiator,” he said. “It’s not the time to sit at the table with an agenda or special interest.”
Newberry said the allocating of funds would also be her priority, but pledged to protect the arts, music and funding for technologies.
“Keeping the arts, music and technology going are major 21st century skills the kids need,” she said.
Tice-Raskin also listed finances as the biggest challenge before the school district.
“The district is at a crossroads with major and difficult decisions to be made that will need the consideration of tough policy issues and require tough calls,” Tice-Raskin said, noting that his legal expertise would are beneficial in those processes.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4236.