George Boardman: High school cutbacks another consequence of our stagnant economy
Observations from the center stripe: Rebound edition
JESSICA MORSE, who lost a bid last year to unseat Rep. Tom McClintock, has been appointed deputy secretary of forest resources management for the state. The $165,000 salary is almost as much as a congressman makes, and she doesn’t have to spend any time in Washington … ALEX JONES, beloved by conspiracy theorists everywhere, stated under oath that a “psychosis” caused him to believe the Sandy Hook massacre was staged … AS PREDICTED, leaks about the Mueller report are surfacing. Mueller’s staff attorneys are supposedly complaining that AG William Barr is underplaying the report’s conclusions … I SUPPOSE it’s a good thing the FDA will be monitoring the production of laboratory meat, coming to a store near you. Meanwhile, the restrictions on genetically modified salmon have been lifted …
Schools can be what economists call “coincident indicators” of how the local economy is doing, so I was interested in the reasons given when Nevada Union High School announced it will drop German and one of its AP Calculus offerings from the curriculum.
District officials cited the lack of interest in the courses and the need to address the needs of the 40 percent of students who “come from low socio-economic status backgrounds, are English language learners, foster youth or homeless youth,” in the words of Superintendent Brett McFadden.
Such students made up just 15 percent of the school’s population 10 years ago, according to McFadden. Part of the percentage increase can probably be attributed to declining enrollment. As McFadden told The Union, the district has faced “17 consecutive years” of enrollment decline. “We’re over 50 percent smaller than we were 20 years ago,” he said.
Economic development — or rather, the lack thereof — is the root cause of this downward spiral. While California’s dynamic economy has grown to become the fifth largest in the world, Nevada County just stagnates, its population remaining essentially unchanged as it grows older. Good jobs are elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the elected leaders of the county, the Board of Supervisors, prefer to don the green eyeshades of the auditor rather than assume the mantle of leaders that would require them to think boldly and actually make an investment in the economic future of the county.
While others bemoan the lack of economic growth in the county, the supervisors prefer to focus on what is always their No. 1 priority: “Maintain the county’s financial stability and core services.” (I always assumed that was part of the basic job requirement that doesn’t have to be restated annually.) Economic development? That’s a priority B item in the board’s list of objectives for 2019, with a major emphasis on hustling money from other sources.
The board’s idea of economic development involves parceling out money to the various Chambers of Commerce in the county, and “investing” in the Economic Resource Council.
Funding that goes to the chambers is akin to the political patronage handed out in bigger communities, with each supervisor delivering economic goodies to his or her district. The money is spent promoting tourism, the source of unstable, poor-paying jobs with no real future. We already have too many of those jobs.
The ERC, which is supposed to attract new industry and jobs to the county, has been ineffective in that role, and there appears to be little or no desire to improve the situation. The ERC has not had a permanent executive director since Jon Gregory left almost two years ago. It currently lists Tim Corkins as interim executive director. Since his other job is CEO of Z.A.P Manufacturing, it’s unclear how much time he can devote to the affairs of the ERC.
But he does have plenty of people giving him advice. The 19-member board of directors includes an eight-member executive committee that does … what? (By the way, the ERC’s website says board member Jason Fouyer is a member of the Grass Valley City Council, a job he gave up a while back.)
A lot of people want to believe our quaint, little communities will be magnets for well-educated couples seeking a Norman Rockwell-like setting to raise their kids. Besides, they say, the rise of the internet means that people in knowledge industries can work from anywhere.
But there’s plenty of evidence to show that the small high-tech companies we covet prefer to stay in areas where there are heavy concentrations of the workers they need. Our lack of high-speed internet service (another area where the supervisors were content to sit back and do nothing) means a lot of people aren’t interested in working remotely from here, and well-educated parents are looking for communities with good schools — not schools that are cutting back on AP courses.
Grass Valley has come up with a new logo that describes the town as “A place to live and thrive.” They should include an asterisk that states: “You’ll thrive as long as you’re independently wealthy, retired, or bring a job with you.”
Since I’ve touched on maintaining “core services,” let’s discuss the gold-plated county facility known as the Carl F. Bryan II Juvenile Hall, quickly dubbed “Carl’s Junior” by local wits when it opened in 2002.
The facility was recently featured by the San Francisco Chronicle in an extensive examination of the state of juvenile incarceration in California. The Nevada County facility was in the spotlight because — based on calculations by the Chronicle — it’s the most expensive juvenile hall on a cost per inmate basis in the state.
According to the paper’s calculations, it cost $530,000 to house each inmate in 2018 (an average of five people), far exceeding the costs in Sacramento County or any Bay Area county. Counties differ on how they calculate these costs, but however you add them up, it’s a lot of money.
The facility was built at a time when the federal and state governments were showering money on counties that were willing to build new facilities that would house more offenders. The Bryan Juvenile Hall was built to house 60 juveniles and was operating at capacity when it opened.
But for reasons that aren’t clear to the experts, juvenile crime and the number of incarcerated offenders has declined in recent years to point where most counties have way more capacity than they need. Nevada County is near the minimum staffing required by law, but still had six adults supervising five kids last year, according to the Chronicle.
The Nevada County Civil Grand Jury examined the facility’s operations in 2016, and again in 2018, and concluded the county should contract with another county to house its juvenile offenders, and then find another use for the Bryan facility.
The county has done nothing about the issue since then, possibly because it’s putting so much energy into creating housing for our homeless population. Wait a minute …
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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“You’ve heard me say this before: Every acre can and will burn someday in this state” — Cal Fire Director Thom Porter.