Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mariposa Daily News 2011

Sierra Foothill Charter Awaits MCUSD Board Decision

Sierra Foothill Charter School Press Release

The Offices of the Mariposa County Unified School District Board of Trustees meeting room was filled to capacity for the second time in two weeks after the Board called a Special Meeting to discuss the Sierra Foothill Charter School petition, which was filed with MCUSD on October 10. As per law, the Trustees had thirty days to study the petition before holding a public hearing. That hearing took place on November 17, 2011.

At that meeting Sierra Foothill Charter School presented a strong argument in favor of approval, including letters of support from local civic leaders, State legislative leaders, the Chancellor of UC Merced and many University Deans, among others. The MCUSD Trustees asked questions of the SFCS Board and listened to over 40 residents of Mariposa County express the great need for the charter school, with only three speakers voicing concerns. Trustees decided to call a special meeting to continue the discussion.

At the Wednesday, December 7 meeting, nearly all speakers praised the quality of the SFCS petition and spoke highly of the proposed curriculum. Only a handful, including Georgia Gallagher, President of the Mariposa County Teachers Association, John Stewart, President of the Classified union, and Lisa Edelheit, a parent with a child at El Portal Elementary and a Regional Organizer for the California Teachers Association voiced concerns, and these were not over the petition itself. Gallagher said, "The issue is not whether the charter is well done, but more about the timing." Gallagher pleaded with the charter group to consider putting off the formation of SFCS for one year when maybe MCUSD would be in a better financial position.

Jill Harry, Board Chair of SFCS, answered with something one of the teacher’s union representatives had said to her the day before – to a child, a year is a really long time—particularly where schooling is concerned. Harry further explained that SFCS has not been the cause the district’s financial problems. “Our local school was closed. We are trying to solve that problem.” She reiterated that SFCS wanted to work with the district to make this a solution that would be beneficial for everyone in the long run.

Harry also pointed out that not all 87 projected students would be coming from MCUSD schools. While Harry said 12 at the meeting, it was later determined that at least 19 are Mariposa County residents who are schooled outside the district, bringing the number down to 68 MCUSD students who would attend the charter, or 65 ADA (the amount the determines state funding). While ADA follows these students, so do the costs associated with them,” said Harry. “The district would no longer have to pay for things like curriculum and special ed, for instance.” The charter plans to hire six full time staff (a principal, four teachers, and an office manager), plus a part time teachers’ aid in year one, with an additional teacher in year two. There is a health insurance benefit, participation in STRS for teachers, and a 403B plan for retirement.

Others commented that they don’t have a year for this to be put off. Catheys Valley day care provider Kelly Salonen, whose business is walking distance from the school site, spoke of how her business is struggling since the closure and she may soon have to close her doors.

SFCS Chief Information Officer David Ardell explained that he and his wife are both UC Merced professors who live in Catheys Valley. "The logistics of having a child in kindergarten in Mariposa while working every day in Merced is killing us. We can't do it much longer. If SFCS doesn't open this fall, we will be looking at moving our son to a Merced school. We are out of options."

Catheys Valley resident Donna Lettice spoke of the many families who are already taking their children out of MCUSD schools. While Harry had spoken earlier of budgeting for 19 students living in Mariposa County to return to district schools, Lettice said she knew as many as 30 students whose families, including her own, were interested in the charter school.

Local resident Michael Knutson spoke of how he and his wife had moved from Virginia back to Catheys Valley to be near his family when Catheys Valley Elementary was still open. The school had been a serious factor in their decision. If the charter does not open, he was not sure what they will do. His wife works in Merced.

Hornitos resident Heather Bernikoff expressed concerns whether or not the District had a fund development plan , “The only solutions I have seen presented are cuts, cuts and more cuts. Where are the ideas for revenue generation such as writing for grants or asking the community to support education through some measure? This fiscal crisis has been with us for years; have you begun to lay the ground work to engage the larger Mariposa community in understanding why education is an essential investment?”

In answer to a question from an MCUSD Board Member regarding specifics on how SFCS would provide educational opportunities for all MCUSD students, UC Professor Monica Medina said, as just one example, a science grant had been made available to her last year designed to help train teachers and give them teaching materials to take back to their classrooms." At the time I lacked the connections to make this grant work locally, but now we will have a vehicle to disseminate information and invite local K-12 teachers to worthy trainings. This would benefit children in all Mariposa schools."

SFCS Chief Financial Officer John Elliott pointed out, "You can't overlook the value that partnering with UC Merced will bring. The University has given this charter its support because the UC Deans are already finding that without a strong, viable school in the immediate area, they have a difficult time attracting new teachers and staff to the area. If we don't act soon, the UC will find another charter--probably a Merced school--to partner with. This is an opportunity not to be lost."

Community member Barry Brouillette spoke of the Superintendent as steering a sinking ship. “Every year you are asked to further dismantle the educational system,” said Brouillette, speaking to the Trustees about the effects of cuts from Sacramento. “This decision that the MCUSD School Board has to make is the most important decision that has been made in Mariposa County in years.” He urged the board to be brave and vote in favor of the positive change he sees the charter school as capable of bringing.

The Board of Trustees did not ask any questions about the charter petition itself at this meeting—there were no questions about the curriculum or the budget. Conversation revolved around the school district’s financial state and the timing. Governor Jerry Brown is expected to announce his revised budget, which will affect MCUSD’s budget, December 15, the same day the Trustees are to vote on the charter. The district’s budget is not one of the five reasons the Trustees can legally use to deny the charter.

Harry said the timing was unfortunate, but driven by Sacramento. “If MCUSD says no, we must file with the California Department of Education by early January in order for our petition to be part of the State Board of Education’s March meeting. We need approval in March in order to qualify for Prop 39 for facility use and to submit our application in time for the Public Charter Schools Grant Program.” This grant would supply up to $375,000 in start-up funding over a two year period. This grant is not available to “dependent” charters (a type of charter Edelheit proposed SFCS look into). Dependent charters are those started by school districts where the Trustees act as the charter’s board.

A few Trustees asked the charter group to consider withdrawing and postponing a year. In response, Harry said, "That would be a board decision and I can’t speak for the charter’s board. We will discuss it. One thing we will have to look at is the hundreds and hundreds of hours we've already put into this effort--time taken away from our families and children. Do we really want to repeat this somewhere down the line when we have no guarantee the district will be in better shape financially a year from now?" 

At one point, the meeting started to veer into issues regarding trust on both sides.  Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies stepped in with comments to try to get everyone re-focused on the issue at hand. He cautioned against expecting better numbers from Sacramento next year. “Has that worked for us before?” he asked. “This is a community issue.”

The meeting adjourned with Trustees asking Superintendent Aaron Rosander to quickly meet with Jill Harry to see if items could be resolved, and to bring the results back to the board.

MCUSD Trustees are scheduled to vote on the Sierra Foothill Charter School petition at its regular December 15 board meeting. Open session begins at 6:30 PM. The district’s offices are at 5085 Old Highway, next to the high school.

 "We truly believe that if approved Sierra Foothill Charter School will be a benefit to the school district, and the county as a whole, in the long run," Harry said. "We are bringing children back to their local community. We are establishing a curriculum that will appeal to parents presently looking for a choice, and we very much want to work cooperatively with MCUSD to bring resources to all Mariposa schools to improve the learning experience for all children." 

Denham Introduces Legislation To Provide For Improved Visitor Services At Yosemite National Park


Dec 13, 2011 - Washington, D.C.
- Representative Denham today introduced bi-partisan legislation, H.R. 3640, authorizing the National Park Service, through the Secretary of the Interior, to acquire up to 18 acres of land in the community of Mariposa, on which they will locate a visitor center and administrative facility. The land acquisition will provide for improved visitor services for Yosemite National Park, a vital part of the Mariposa community and economy.

“This legislation will provide benefits to Mariposa County, Yosemite National Park and those visiting the area. It will provide economic opportunities for the community and

enhance visitor services at no cost to the taxpayer,” said Congressman Denham.

The Yosemite National Park’s General Management Plan identifies the need and importance of establishing administrative and visitor services in Mariposa, California. The location of Mariposa was decided on because of a growing concern about administrative facilities in the crowded park coupled with the majority of employees living in Mariposa. The proposed project looks to acquire the land without using federal or state tax dollars, but rather utilizing funds that are received from park attendees.

“We particularly appreciate Congressman Denham’s proactive approach to helping Yosemite National Park advance its visitor service objectives and recognizing the strategic role gateway communities share in that vision,” said Mariposa County Board of Supervisors Jim Allen.

The bill is a great opportunity to celebrate the values of Mariposa and Yosemite through a partnership effort to provide services to visitors.

“Congressman Denham’s bill is a great opportunity for the County and Federal Government to collaborate on a project that is very valuable to the economy of the local area. The bill provides the opportunity for a great partnership between Mariposa County and Yosemite National Park to better serve the visiting public,” said Mike Tollefson, Director .

This is a great location to have a center that would support both Mariposa County and visitors to Yosemite National Park.

“This project is a win-win for the NPS, the visitors, employees and Mariposa County. There are probably 100 NPS employees driving the river canyon over an hour each way to work only to sit at a computer for 8 hours. These jobs could be much more efficiently completed in office space outside the park. Establishing orientation visitor services in Mariposa will dramatically reduce entrance station congestion and enhance visitor education.” Kevin Cann, Supervisor District IV, Mariposa County.

Congressman Denham’s legislation was introduced in tandem with Congressman Sam Farr’s (D-CA), which will upgrade the Pinnacles National Monument in San Benito County to ‘National Park’ status.

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