George Boardman: Overjoyed by approval of high school bond measure (really)
December 11, 2016
Observations from the center stripe: Successor edition
I’LL BET Sheriff Keith Royal’s preferred successor is tougher on pot than John Foster appears to be … YOU CAN bet some civilians will face criminal charges in the Oakland warehouse fire disaster, but the civil service types who let the situation develop will get a free pass … I’M SURE it’s just a coincidence that Donald Trump criticized the new Air Force One as too expensive after the CEO of the contractor, Boeing, criticized Trump’s foreign trade plans … ABOUT TIME: Bill King, probably the best play-by-play announcer to ever work in the Bay Area, has been admitted to the broadcast wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame … ANOTHER BAD idea: Allowing airline passengers to use their cell phones during flights, a proposal being considered by the feds …
I can't tell you how glad I am that Measure B, the $47 million bond issue to upgrade our high school facilities, managed to pass.
Now I won't have to bear the guilt of endangering the safety of our high school students.
You didn't think I had that kind of influence, did you? I didn't either until I wrote a column in The Union declaring my reluctant "no" vote against the measure. (We'll just ignore the fact that I also wrote a column admonishing critics of the bond issue to stick to the facts.)
Then, when it appeared Measure B wouldn't get the 55 percent vote needed for passage, the condemnation started. In emails, and blog and Facebook posts, I was reviled as a bitter old man who wasn't willing to support schools. As evidence that I had it in for the schools, some pointed out that I didn't bother to take a tour of the dilapidated facilities at Bear River and Nevada Union high schools.
That was the general theme of a note I received shortly after the election from Terry McAteer, the former four-term county superintendent of schools who helped spearhead the "yes" campaign. For those of you who are recent arrivals, McAteer abruptly resigned in May 2007 to return to teaching "with a genuine excitement … to relive the magic that takes place every day in the most important job in society." But his passion for teaching apparently cooled quickly, because he resigned his position at Bear River less than a year later to "save a social studies position (from being cut)," he told The Union. He didn't bother to mention he had been hired as superintendent of schools in Inyo County, a tenure that was not without controversy.
But as they say in education, this is a teachable moment: Wait until enough votes have been counted to determine the outcome before you start looking around for somebody to blame.
I didn't bother to take the facilities tour because I took district officials at their word that maintenance had been deferred and now it was time to pay up. Of course, the money saved by postponing maintenance was probably spent on more administrators and higher salaries and benefits all around, none of which appear to have made a difference in our students' state tests scores.
Bond supporters did a good job of keeping the focus on the condition of the schools, ignoring an issue that concerned me and other skeptics: Is this a good investment of money in a district with declining enrollment? Proponents claimed that enrollment has stabilized and is even increasing at the elementary school level.
If that's true, they are looking at numbers that nobody else in western Nevada County has. I challenged them to identify one elementary school district in this area that is planning for significantly more students. Crickets, as they say.
You don't need a degree in statistics to see the trend. High school enrollment declined 35 percent from 2000 to 2015, and middle school enrollment was down 42 percent during the same period. The high school district's own projections show a drop of almost 500 students over the next three school years. Finally, a new study by the state Department of Education predicts Nevada County will experience a 12.3 percent decline in K-12 enrollment by 2024-25, the worst county performance in the state.
Supporters refused to address the issue in a meaningful way and insisted that no schools — meaning Bear River — will be closed, and voters bought it. People want to think well of the schools that educate their children and want to trust the people who run them. As we've seen in the past around here, people have a real nostalgia for schools and don't want to see them closed, even if they resemble the ghost town of Bodie on a slow tourist day.
But as it turns out, that isn't the end of the story because the district administration teed up a proposal last week to raise developer fees another 12 cents to $3.36 per square foot. (I don't recall that being mentioned before election day. Do you?)
Superintendent Louise Johnson said the move was necessary to remain eligible for certain state matching funds, which requires districts to maximize developer fees and all other local sources of money. Apparently "maximize" is a euphemism for "unlimited."
As The Union diplomatically put it, it's "unfortunate" the vote had to come so soon after approval of the $47 million bond issue. "It's just a decision the board will have to make," Johnson said.
The board of trustees decided to table the proposal, but you can bet they'll revisit this issue in the future. High developer fees just make it more difficult to attract families with school age children. According to figures compiled by the Nevada County Contractors' Association, developers have to come up with as much as $40,000 in permit fees for new houses before any dirt is moved or nails are pounded.
Of course, those fees are added onto the cost of the house, which makes it even more difficult for young families to put down roots. That means even fewer students in our schools. But thanks to the bond money, developer fees and state funds, the schools will be well maintained and modernized for the declining numbers who attend.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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