Mendo School Board Meets In Elk (April 16, 2003)

During the presentation by Greenwood Elementary School teacher Linda White, Ms. White noted that Elk had experienced a “baby boom” this year with five births. Superintendent Jim Shock immediately noted that five new funding units would bolster the student-starved Mendocino schools by 2008. 

Several persons associated with the Community School, including a teenage student, were upset that two of its three teachers had been issued pink slips by the district — that their jobs would go if state funding was reduced, as appears likely. . One of the upset people was Anderson Valley parent Nancy Meyer whose son attends the community school. “

"They only have three teachers and two of them got pink slips,” Meyer said, pointing out that dumping teachers at such a small school would not only sacrifice program continuity, it would make the school much less of a magnet for young people who prefer it to the regular high school. Meyer demanded that the District deal with the budget problem by “leading by example.” 

“The administration should take a voluntary 20% pay cut,” she declared. “And if they don’t, the board should impose it on them. And if the board won’t do it, then we taxpayers and parents will take it on.” 

Meyer went on to note that 45% of the school teaching staff had received pink slips. 

“Why are you considering laying off teachers who deliver the services? If school administration takes 20% cuts and works four days a week and covers for each other, then more than $60,000 could be used to retain teachers. If you won’t do it we will probe the budget and pick it open down to the bone. These are public dollars and you should be delivering services and teachers first. If you won’t do it, we will do the budget job ourselves.”

Trustee Chuck Wilcher calmly  suggested to Ms. Meyer that she consider participating in the district’s budget advisory committee. 

After Ms. Meyer had left, trustee George Montag, feeling her pain, pleaded, “Please realize that we are under legal ramifications to everything. We are still in negotiations [with the teachers union]. We value the community school which we have grown and hired the finest, the cream of the teachers to staff. It’s painful for the board; we picked them and we love them.”

Montag ignored the suggestion that administration share the sacrifice it and the school board were asking of its staff.

Sally Swan, the school district's financial maven, delivered a characteristically lucid but dire budget status report. She described the latest round of state educational budget cuts, including the district’s library materials budget that took a $3,000 hit, as “almost a joke.” The state, she said, had also eliminated its “mandated cost reimbursement” program, a loss of $67k in state required ancillary edu-functions such as immunization programs, evaluations, and even more nebulous functions the state requires of its far flung dominions. 

In other words, cuts on top  of cuts. Ms. Swan said she and her counterparts in other districts had met at the Mendocino County Office of Education compound at Talmage recently and concluded that the educational budgets all suffer from “extreme uncertainty,” which is not only your basic foregone conclusion in this context but one that could have spared a few travel bucks by arriving at its foregone self by telephone. But our educational administrators pass many work hours gathering to discuss the obvious, causing the rest of us to wonder at the pure fat in any of their budgets, austere or not. 

In any case, the county's educational leadership went right on concluding that the budget picture could change drastically for the better or the worse, depending on how the magnitude of the state shortfall. 

All the county's school districts have been told to have their “cut options” ready. On the one hand the state could “raid” (Ms. Swan’s word) the state pension funds to help close the budget gap. On the other hand, the Republicans could force up to 7% in additional cuts by their continued refusal to consider new taxes. Ms. Swan summed up the posture the local edu-people were taking as, “We should assume the worst, and advocate for the best.” 

Board Chair Lin Harlowe, straining to find something “positive” in the situation, commented, “I like that quote — we should assume the worst but hope for the best” — converting the sentiment into the passive voice so that no board action was called for. 

Parent and former SAT camp counselor Rick Childs presented the board with some SAT stats he’d been working on for several months which seemed to show that Mendo’s reputation for high academic standards may not be justified, that Mendo’s college bound graduates were closer to the average than the District likes to think. Of course this news didn’t go over too well with the school board who thanked Mr. Childs for his work, but tried to pick apart his stats and  the methods by which he'd arrived at them. Mr. Childs offered more backup info and copies of school-provided SAT printouts, but to no avail, then agreed to work with Superintendent Shock to see if he could reconcile his stats with Mr. Shock’s rosier SAT stats.

(Childs' has assumed the terrible task of telling Mendocino that its children are about half as smart as Mendocino had assumed they were. He manages to deliver the bad news with great tact.) 

High school principal Mike Matheson didn’t have much to say except that he didn’t yet know what electives would be available for high school students because he had no idea how much money he'd have to fund electives with. He did promise that there would be fewer, including cuts in ROP's class offerings. Matheson hoped that the “community” would compensate with the class losses via local organizations opening their doors to students interested in their activities, such as the Mendocino Art Center, the Botanical Gardens and other pivotal Coast businesses.

Superintendent Shock told the board that he was working on a policy for the leasing of school buses to non-school persons or organizations. The question arose recently when some peaceniks wanted to lease a school bus for a round-trip to a San Francisco peace march. Shock turned the peace people down because they couldn't provide proof of insurance. The peace people immediately howled that they were being discriminated against by a public entity they fund, but Shock seemed to be all the way in the right on this one. Shock went on to say that the district needed a policy spelling out who could rent school buses and how far lessee should be permitted to drive them. There's also the question of whether or not drivers cared to transport certain groups of people, Shock diplomatically put it, perhaps with visions of a Mendo Unified School bus careening down 101, pot smoke pouring out the windows, time capsule hippies cavorting on its hood. 

Shock told the board that a new law requires school districts to change auditors every six years. “It’s a good law,” Shock said.. Like every other school district in the County, Mendo pays Chef Harry P. Cahill to slow-bake their books every year, but now will rotate Chef Harry with Chefs J.S. Robertson & Associates out of Ukiah, but Chef Robertson, the man who certified the famous rigged KZYX programmer elections as A-Okay, would cost the district an additional $2,700. 

But the question of changing auditors was, as usual, contorted in a way that can only happen in Mendoland when Superintendent Shock pointed out that Mr. Cahill was himself now employed by another firm, so, according to Shock, “since Harry is with another firm, we can legally stay with him and have Harry do it while complying with the law.” 

“And that’s a different auditor?" asked a perplexed Wilcher. 

“It’s a different firm,” replied Shock.

So, in light of the district’s budget crunch, the board decided to switch from Harry P. Cahill to Harry P. Cahill. The board will reconsider the question next year — maybe a return to plain old Harry P. should the old numbers cruncher return as a solo act. 

PS. When KZYX reporter Ed Kowas reported on the Greenwood meeting of the Mendocino School Board meeting, he only mentioned that the district had recently detected low levels of lead in one of school’s drinking fountains. Aware that Mendocino is ground zero for My Body, My Temple types, and further aware that KZYX's listnership is also self-obsessed right down to careful monitoring of each morsel of organic matter that passes its pursed lips, the faucet was turned permanently off, although the trace amounts of lead in the water presented no hazard whatsoever to "the kids." Continuing to pander to his solipsistic audience, Kowas also reported that Mendo Unified had no intention of buying irradiated food. 

Whew! At ease, Mendolib! The precious bodily fluids of your heirs and heiresses will flow on, uncontaminated. 

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