Students: Jr. High would ‘suck’ without electives

In the words of one seventh-grader, “This sucks.”

In a Feb. 18 meeting of the Chico Unified School District Board of Trustees that packed the City Council chambers and ran to nearly midnight, dozens of students, parents and teachers begged the board not to cut junior-high-school electives.

On a list of potential cuts, in a year when the CUSD must cut $1.8 million, is the idea of reducing junior-high schools to five periods, shaving 56 minutes off the school day. It’s a move that could save $695,000 by essentially eliminating electives and the equivalent of 16 full-time teachers.

Trustees ultimately held off on voting to send preliminary layoff notices to the teachers who could be affected, even as Superintendent Scott Brown urged them just to be done with it and rescind the action later if need be.

Legally, the notices must be sent out by March 15 and forwarded to the Chico Unified Teachers’ Association five days before that.

Trustee Scott Huber, hearing speakers’ pleas that the district cut anything but teaching staff, moved to delay the decision to March 3, the day after the state election that could reveal more options if a $15 billion bond passes. In the meantime, the board asked Brown to come up with an alternative cuts scenario.

Speakers said electives, which range from band and student government to ceramics and computers, foster creativity and boost test scores in core subjects.

“It will bring down everybody’s grades,” said Alex Hodge, a Chico Junior High eighth-grader and concert band member. “Ask any kid here why they go to school. Half of them will say their elective.”

School psychologist Pamela Beeman said she routinely works with children who have five F’s and then an A in their elective. To eliminate those classes, she said, would further separate the haves from the have-nots, “because only students whose parents can afford it will have access to music lessons, art classes and time on a good computer.”

Others questioned how health could be on the chopping block, with teens facing of eating disorders, depression and sexually transmitted diseases.

Library media teachers appeared, too, to point out that in the last two years their ranks have gone from six to two, and now one of those is threatened with a layoff notice—an 83-percent cut to that one program alone.

Board President Steve O’Bryan cast the sole vote against postponing the decision on whether to send the layoff notices. “I’m going to hope for the best and plan for the worst, because it’s served me well in the past,” he said.

Last year, said Bob Latchaw, the CUSD’s human resources chief, 214 preliminary layoff notices were sent out, and all but six of the recipients ended up keeping their jobs.