In emotional vote, board moves to shut Pleasant Ridge |

In emotional vote, board moves to shut Pleasant Ridge

The room fell eerily silent as soon as the time came to vote. And when the trustees softly and unanimously moved Tuesday night to close historic Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, parents pulled tissue from their purses and dabbed at swollen red eyes.

Through the tears and over the sniffling audience, they spoke.

“We’ll go from three fabulous elementaries to two fabulous elementaries,” said Melanie Hoey, who has been in the district for 42 years as a student, parent and teacher. “We will do this, and we will come out on top.”

The choice to close Pleasant Ridge at Tuesday’s board meeting comes as the four-school south county district faces a shortfall of $1,635,000. Closing the school for a year before reincorporating as a charter school will save the district $300,000.

But board members insisted it was their only choice short of laying off even more teachers than planned.

“If we keep going the way we’re going, we could take the whole district down,” said board member Joann Rossovich.

Though closing Pleasant Ridge was difficult, choosing not to fix the budget crisis “would be infinitely more difficult,” according to Superintendent Britta Skavdahl, who painted a grim picture of what the district would look like if the state had to take over: The board would be powerless and the superintendent would have to take orders from state officials until the district was financially solvent.

District officials presented a plan to parents Monday to close the school, use it as a home school site next year and restart it as a charter school during 2011-12. The 185 students at Pleasant Ridge would be transferred to Alta Sierra or Cottage Hill elementary schools.

Other measures passed at the meeting aimed to chip away at the shortfall, including votes to raise the maximum class size to 25 students at elementary schools and 30 students at Magnolia Intermediate School. Each of those two measures saves a little under $150,000 a year.

Even with the closure and new rules on class-size reduction voted into place, the district has only cut 48.7 percent of what it needs to.

The district spends $10.2 million of its $12 million budget – 85 percent – on labor costs. With about 80 teachers, Pleasant Ridge Union School District is the second largest in Nevada County and has the highest average salary.

A plan to lay off up to 16 teachers was the elephant in the room. Though it wasn’t on the agenda, two teachers called it out during the public comment at the beginning of the meeting.

Sarah Schwartz, a second-grade teacher at Alta Sierra Elementary with nine years in the district, identified herself as 15th from the bottom of the seniority list; her job is on the line.

“I challenge you to be creative,” she told board members. “Find ways (to cut the budget) and lay off only what must be done.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail or call (530) 477-4247.

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