SHUSD Board Tours Whitethorn School

More than a dozen parents advocated for Whitethorn Elementary School when the Southern Humboldt Unified School District Board of Trustees met there on March 10.

During the public comment portion of the meeting people expressed concerns about the plan to cut a teacher position at Whitethorn next year due to a projected drop in enrollment. Support was requested in the form of teachers’ aides, and the parents pointed out the need for a custodian and a school secretary at the site.

There was also discussion among the public and the board about the impact on public school enrollment that will result from the recently enacted state law requiring all students to be vaccinated.

Principal Stephanie Stefano-Davis led a tour of Whitethorn School. As the group visited the four classrooms and library there was discussion about the need for a multipurpose room that has long been requested at Whitethorn School. Parents of Whitethorn students have been raising money to repair the bathrooms.

After the tour the board considered the needed repairs at all the outlying school sites throughout the district. Board president Dennis O’Sullivan talked about the two bond measures district voters passed for school modernization. With the first of the bond measures, which was passed in 2010, some work was done at Redway School, the junior high was built at Miranda, and most of South Fork High School was modernized. District superintendent Catherine Scott pointed out that a few of the most pressing repairs needed at the smaller schools were undertaken.

“But during that time we did a lot of this prioritization and an assessment of the needs of the district which included Ettersburg School at the time, and just a lot of work, and we came up with great ideas,” O’Sullivan said. “I mean it was sort of fun. And we thought $25 million was going to go a long, long way.”

In 2014, voters approved another bond measure to access modernization money sooner, O’Sullivan said.

O’Sullivan reported that the district will soon find out the cost for the modernization of the South Fork High School gymnasium, locker rooms, and band room, which comprise the next scheduled project. “And after that we’ll know where we’re at,” he said.

It was estimated that after that project there might be between $6 million and $7 million of the bond funds left to address the needs of Whitethorn, Casterlin, Agnes J. Johnson, Osprey, and Redway schools. Scott presented a list of the most pressing needs at those schools.

Board Actions and Discussions

The board voted to replace the concrete quad at South Fork with new concrete for a cost of $66,000 as part of the gym project, to be paid for with bond funds.

The trustees voted to declare the Ettersburg School site surplus property.

They approved a job description for a food services manager, but due to budget concerns voted not to hire for the position.

The board voted to approve a Student Development Center (SDC) and Learning Center position for students with higher needs. Scott said she plans to meet with Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA) very soon for further discussion because of the need for a second additional SDC position.

The trustees voted to add .4 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) for a vice principal for South Fork, Miranda and Osprey schools, and a .6 FTE Spanish teacher.

They voted to increase the surveillance cameras at Agnes J. Johnson, Redway, and South Fork campus schools at a cost to the district of about $16,675, a price that included a $10,000 matching grant from the district’s insurance carrier Keenan & Associates.

The board had a brainstorming session regarding student drug use. Student trustee Alex Tapia took an active part in the discussion, sharing her perspectives on the drug problems at school and suggestions for more student exposure to opportunities for sports. Trustees expressed the need for more community conversation about the larger issues that lead to drug use. They sought ideas for ways to provide support and information to help students make healthy choices.

District budget technician Vanessa Fouquette gave the board a positive Second Interim Report covering the financial and budgetary status of the district for the period ending January 31, 2016. The report stated that based on the current projections the district will meet its financial obligations for the current fiscal year and subsequent two fiscal years.

A drop in the percentage of district reserve is projected for the next three years from 15.73 percent in 2015-2016, to 13.99 percent in 2016-2017, and to 10.03 percent in 2017-2018.

Scott and district business manager Bambi Henderson reported that they had recently learned that medical insurance rates could go up 12 to 18 percent for district employees. The district had budgeted the increase at 4.5 percent. It could cost the district an additional $250,000, they reported. All 32 districts in the county had under-budgeted insurance increases, Henderson reported.