Plumas Unified looking at teaching shortage – about 23 percent of positions will be vacant

By Debra Moore

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Who will teach the children?

That’s the question uppermost on people’s minds during the public comment portion of the April 13 meeting of the Plumas Unified School District board of trustees.

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As of now there will be 35 instructional positions open at the beginning of the next school year – representing 23 percent of the district’s total certified staff, according to Scott Cory, the district’s human resources director. The open positions are the result of retirements and resignations. The teachers and the school district are currently in negotiations.

Michele Graham, who is retiring from the Quincy Elementary School Alder Street campus, said during the meeting “literally half of our staff plan on not returning for the next school year,” and added that “a lot of people are citing that they can earn more money elsewhere. ” And it’s not just about the money – she said that prep time is another issue. Other school districts offer elementary school teachers prep time, but not at Plumas Unified. “They feel like a lot of time is being taken away from their families,” she said.

Music teacher Jane Brown also addressed the school board. She is the only music teacher for the entire district – not because there are no more positions available, but because no one will take them. She said that 11 applicants had been interviewed over the past 14 months, and a job was offered “to almost all 11 and none accepted.” She said the main issue is that applicants look at the pay scale and housing costs (if they can find a home) and they can not make it work. She encouraged the board to look at the pay scale, as well as other measures that could be taken to make teaching in this district more satisfying.

She suggested adding more personal days to the calendar, specifically more personal days so that teachers can take care of business that must be done during the week. She also encouraged the district to pay a greater portion of health benefits. “As our health benefits go up, our take-home pay goes down,” she said, adding that even as a 33-year teacher at the top of the pay scale she is feeling a reduction in pay due to an increase in benefits .

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Her last suggestion involved bonuses – money for signing a contract, as well as money for moving expenses.

Linda Gay, a special education teacher with the district’s Special Day preschool, asked the board to develop a plan to fill the anticipated vacancies – seven of which are special ed positions. She discussed some of the challenges of teaching, as well as the rewards, but said that the district is “losing amazingly talented teachers” because of the pay. She cited the escalated cost of living and asked again, “What’s your plan?”

Carly Kurpjuweit is a teacher at the Quincy Elementary School Pioneer campus as well as the parent of four young children and she spoke during the meeting as both. She agreed with Linda Gay, that she has seen “a lot of amazing talent leave the area,” and she worried about how will be teaching her children. “If we’re not competitive, I do not know how we’re going to fill these positions,” she said.

Daryl Hutchins, who teaches at Jim Beckwourth High School in Portola, spoke on behalf of the Plumas County Teachers Association, in the absence of its president, Suzanne Stirling. He noted all of the changes that are facing the district – a new superintendent, a new Human Resources director, and new teachers. The teacher association president position will also be vacant as its current president, Quincy High School teacher Suzanne Stirling, is retiring at the end of the school year. “It’s a scary time for many teachers,” Hutchins summed up.

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The school board does not respond to speakers during public comment, but the teachers and school district were scheduled to negotiate again April 14.

GHS, IVA and sports

The other topic that garnered a lot of attention during public comment was the status of sports for high school students in Indian Valley. Ryan Schramel, who is a director and teacher at Indian Valley Academy (under Plumas Charter School), said he had been approached by the community to talk about the students of IVA and Greenville High School playing sports together. It had been done before, but issues with how attendance is counted became a point of contention. “We are an independent study school, so they have to complete assignments,” Schramel said, whereas in the school district a student must be in attendance. He said it was difficult for coaches to administer, but he thinks it could be possible. “Other places do it,” he said.

Schramel is expecting an enrollment of about 70 students next year at IVA, while Greenville High is anticipating 25 students based on a survey sent to families earlier this year.

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Parent Shannan Phillips agreed. “I’m coming to you tonight regarding the reopening of GHS, but as a parent I can not stress how important it is to have a sports program.” She said that while there has been a divide between the two schools, there “should not be any reason to not have sports just because of low numbers.” She said her daughter would probably transfer from GHS to IVA if sports aren’t available.

Parent Megan Neer reiterated that sentiment. She is happy that GHS will be open, but the majority of people she has talked to want to see sports and other activities offered. She said that though 25 kids said they would be coming back, that number would drop without a sports program.

She said that GHS alone would only have five football players, but together the two schools would have 16 players. She said that this year her son has played football, basketball and baseball at Quincy High, which has been a great experience for him, but it was only possible because he could ride the bus to school. With GHS reopening, that would not be an option.

In addition to attendance, another issue is that both Greenville High School and Indian Valley Academy are members of CIF and there would need to be some changes.

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Teacher shortage and GHS

Following the meeting Plumas News asked both Assistant Superintendent Kristy Warren and School board president Traci Holt, about the status of Greenville High School if there are so few students planning to attend.

Both said that the school district is committed to offering K-12 education in Greenville for the next school year. Currently the district is planning to staff Greenville Junior-Senior High School, which is grades 7-12, with five teachers. Warren said she anticipates that the campus will have 40 to 50 students when the lower grades are added to the mix.

When asked about the possibility of elementary school (80 are anticipated to return there) and high school students sharing one campus, Warren explained that there are special requirements for the different age groups, that would preclude that from happening.

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