Hearing the quiet voices of gratitude

It’s been said that being a school board member is a thankless job. I disagree.

In the election of 1994, a new volunteer took her place on the Board of Trustees for the Chico Unified School District. During her first term, Donna Aro demonstrated that five members who work together could get things done; she applied herself with passion, skill and intelligence. In concert with her fellow members, Donna worked hundreds of hours on three bond measures to alleviate overcrowding at our high schools. Against political pressure she strongly supported the inclusion of Pleasant Valley High School’s $2.3 million English complex in the bond project list, and she was largely responsible for the naming of Canyon View High School.

This freshman member also was a key supporter of class size reduction, which limited the size of K­3 classrooms to 20 students. Donna also supported a voluntary statewide testing program in Chico (SB265) before the current state-mandated testing. We found good news and also opportunities for improvement, especially in spelling, as a result of this testing.

An advocate for teachers, Donna strongly supported the creation of interest-based bargaining with the district’s teachers—a collaborative approach still used today by CUSD’s classified employees.

In 1998 two new community members took their seats on the board. Scott Schofield and Ann Sisco were longtime CUSD volunteers. Both had worked on the high-school bond committees. It was Scott who, in meeting after meeting, fought for the inclusion of funding to renovate Chico High’s gymnasium. The $2 million project will be completed in January 2003.

Scott’s and Ann’s first meeting as board members was quite different from Donna’s. The advances of the previous four years gave way to a collision of high-profile issues. The superintendent vacancy and search, high employee salary demands, a surprise enrollment decline, and roadblocks in the quest for land for the new high school all consumed board discussions. These issues overshadowed the district’s step—the creation of a new strategic plan, “Goals 2020.” With Ann as president, the three saw the plan from concept through to adoption.

Last month marked the end of terms for Donna Aro, Scott Schofield and Ann Sisco. Scott Huber, Rick Rees and Anthony Watts join Steve O’Bryan and me in this next term.

Likely budget cuts will threaten class size reduction and other programs in Chico and throughout the state. Employee salary negotiations will see our community demanding that we treat each other with respect while not allowing students to be caught in the crosshairs of competing financial priorities. Acquiring a site for Canyon View and implementing our strategic plan will also be on the front burner for the board in 2003. These issues are likely to dominate the discussion in the first term of the freshman members.

Criticism comes with any elected position, as it should. I know that the retiring members have heard what those now beginning will hear—the quiet voices of gratitude for service from students and parents, teachers and administrators, clerks and bus drivers, community members and leaders as they apply their passion, skill and intelligence in the Chico Unified School District.

Thankless. I don’t think so.