Small schools: ‘Hands off our principal!’

Parents, children and teachers from Cohasset and Forest Ranch elementaries filled nearly half the room at the May 15 school board meeting, as they urged trustees not to take their principal to balance the budget.

Chico Unified School District officials have proposed having no on-site principal at the district’s three small schools (Nord is the other) and going from four teachers to three in Forest Ranch. The proposed budget for 2002-03 of $91.8 million includes $1.8 million in cuts.

If the board goes ahead with the cuts, parents warned, they’ll consider pulling their kids out of the CUSD altogether and forming a charter school, which would cost the district per-student dollars from the state.

Chris Connerly of Forest Ranch told the board it has a “legal and moral obligation” to make sure students are learning, and in a safe environment, and that won’t happen if teachers are left to shoulder the responsibilities of a principal.

In the last few years, the small schools—whose projected enrollment for next year ranges from 55 to 71 students—have gone from having their own principals, to having one a couple of days a week. This year, Dane Hansen was principal at both Cohasset and Forest Ranch.

Connerly said the district is driving enrollment down by forbidding students from transferring into Forest Ranch Elementary and then using low enrollment to justify dropping a teacher and combining classes.

The parents wondered if the district was trying to “phase out” the school, which dates to 1878 and had a new facility built for it in 1991.

Trustee Rick Anderson urged everyone concerned about cuts to stay at the meeting as next year’s budget was discussed. Nurses, librarians and other groups are also protesting the various proposals.

"We are as concerned about your areas as you are," Anderson said. But, he added, the superintendent was directed to "create as many options as possible" in preparation for whatever happens with the state’s budget.