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Foresthill Union to take first steps to consolidate schools

Elementary and Middle School could become K-8
By: Sara Seyydin Journal Staff Writer
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Foresthill Union School District is moving forward with a decision to consolidate its elementary school and middle schools, pending anticipated funding or lack thereof from the state. District officials and board members say with the district’s shrinking enrollment over the past few years, combining the schools could save the district up to $50,000 initially and allow more services to be offered to students. Other board members say while they stand behind the majority’s decision, they voted no on the issue because they had concerns over the financial implications. Some Foresthill parents say the consolidation could have many benefits, while others say they are concerned about putting younger and older students on the same campus. Portable classrooms on the move The board decided that the facilities will be consoldidated on the campus of Foresthill Divide Middle School, according to Jim Roberts, Foresthill Union superintendant and principal of Foresthill Elementary School. In preparation to apply for state modernization funds, five portable classrooms, which are currently vacant, will be moved from the elementary school to the middle school toward the end of the school year. The district is hoping to receive $629,000 from the state to cover most of the costs associated with the project, which is expected to have a total cost from $800,000 to $1.4 million. Roberts said the earliest the consolidation could take place would be the 2013-2014 school year. “The state is estimating that the modernization money for which we are applying will run out before the end of 2012. We are on a fast-track to try and complete the requirements and get funded under that authority,” Roberts said. “If the state runs out of modernization money this round, we will have to wait for another state bond to pass to receive the money, perhaps in 2014 or beyond.” He said the biggest challenge would be making all parents comfortable with the decision to combine the schools. “Several parents at our community meetings expressed concerns that they were ill at ease with the possibility of younger children being on the same campus as older students,” Roberts said. “We believe that we can alleviate that concern by creating ‘schools within schools’ and using scheduling to create separation.” Board member says consolidation will save money, offer more Roger Del Papa, a board member who voted in favor of the consolidation, said if it goes forward as planned, more services will be available to students. Since the district’s enrollment has shrunk to about 410 students, a full-time physical education teacher was laid off last year and one janitor goes back and forth to maintain each school. Other positions have been eliminated through attrition and teachers taking early retirement. “More and more things have been reduced and reduced. The thought is by consolidating the schools we can start to build things back up,” Del Papa said. Along with the consolidation Del Papa said he hopes the superintendant position will eventually be eliminated. Roberts’ contract has been extended through 2013, but he said he plans on retiring after that. The duties he currently performs could partially be taken over by Shannon Jacinto, the principal of Foresthill Divide Middle School, and partially contracted out, Del Papa said. “He is actually an awesome superintendent,” Del Papa said. “I want teachers more than I want administrators. I think our school districts are too top heavy.” He said the potential cost savings if that measure were taken could be $70,000. Currently, the district’s charter school is offered on the site of the elementary school. Del Papa said he believes the charter school would rent the facility and it would continue to be used as a school. President votes ‘no’ but supports decision Scott Tomashefsky, board president, voted against the consolidation, but said he will work to find the best way to implement it. He said he is pleased with the contingency to the board’s decision that if the state funding does not come through, the district will not use its reserve of $1.2 million in developer fees to complete the project. It will cost the district about $100,000 to move the portable classrooms, he said. “When you adopt a position as a board, you support that and you move forward. My concern was with the funding just coming from the state in general. My concern is that we were dealing with moving forward with moving facilities not knowing if we get the funding,” Tomashefsky said. “You have to move the facilities to get the maximum amount of funding available with the project.” He said he agrees that there is the opportunity to provide more services to students, though. Parent/substitute teacher weighs in Laura Lysen has two children that attend the charter school and substitute teaches for the district. She said she sees the consolidation as mostly positive. “I think considering all of the challenges as far as budget and the fact that we are decreasing in size so much that it’s not a bad idea,” Lysen said. “I have some concerns as far as how they set up the school itself.” She said the cafeteria can already get crowded on snowy or bad weather days and is concerned all of the students won’t fit properly. Older students could help lead reading and other groups for younger students, she said. Knowing they are an example to the younger children may help them behave better and younger students could benefit from the interaction. “Those big kids are always going to be cooler than the teacher,” Lysen said. “Considering the budget challenges that we have, I think it’s a good idea.” Reach Sara Seyydin at saras@goldcountrymedia.com, or follow her on Twitter at AJ_News.