Controversial issues revisited

More than 300 people filed into chambers for the March meeting of the Chico Unified School District Board of Education last week, filling the aisles and vestibule with matching orange T-shirts representing the Chico Unified Teachers Association (CUTA). According to CUTA President George Young, the crowd was there to support union representatives at an impasse in contract negotiations with the district. The main issues, according to Young, are wages that don’t keep up with inflation and a lack of communication about decisions like which teachers will be transferred to which campuses.

The crowd listened through the first part of the meeting and then drifted away as the board dug into a number of controversial issues.

The first was related to Measure A, which voters passed eight years ago. Boosters built support for the $48 million school-bond measure by touting the need for a third high school in the district.

The high-school-aged population was expected to boom, but those new students haven’t materialized. Instead, some board members, including Jann Reed, find themselves wondering whether there’s enough room in the district’s elementary schools.

In the meantime, the buying power of the original bonds isn’t what it used to be.

With approximately $30 million yet to be issued, Reed told her peers, “Six years ago, $30 million bought us a high school. Now, $30 million buys us a third of a high school.”

Though board member Anthony Watts considered it unethical not to build a new high school with the funds, board member Scott Huber asked the question, “If we can’t afford to build a high school, can’t afford to run a high school, and don’t have the students to populate a high school, don’t you think the voters will understand?”

The board discussed numerous possibilities: closing Chico High School and building a new campus; not issuing the remaining bonds or building a new campus; and using the money to renovate the two current high schools without building a new school.

With so many options on the table, board members chose not to make any final decisions.

Instead, they turned their attention to a year-old decision to end year-round scheduling for five district elementary schools.

Though the decision to maintain one consistent school district calendar was made for financial reasons (it could save approximately $70,000 a year, annually), the board was asked by impassioned year-round advocates to reconsider.

One parent, Gina Snider, told the board that year-round schooling has improved her son’s experience.

“There’s not that huge break in learning,” she said.

But some families and teachers wanted even fewer holidays throughout the year, leading Huber to propose a schedule that included the smallest number of days off possible.

Huber’s motion was voted down, as were other options.

In the last hours of the night, the board finally voted 4-1 to accept a schedule that ran from August 15 through June 7. It was a compromise, one that offers no week off in October but a week off for Thanksgiving. Winter break runs from December 22 through January 5, and students will take a weeklong break in February, from the 12th through the 19th.

This schedule will stand for the 2006-2007 school year and will be the model for the next two years as well.