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Tahoe Citizens Committee seeking separate community school boards

by Merrie Leininger

A state assembly bill allowing the formation of community school boards will be before the Assembly Education Committee this afternoon.

The Tahoe Citizen’s Committee has been the driving force behind AB 413, as well as 1997’s bill asking for the creation of a separate Tahoe County, and Michael Jabara has been the chairman of the committee during that time. The Tahoe Citizen’s Committee will meet Thursday night in Stateline.

“I want to be clear this is not a money issue. This is about local control over the curriculum and focusing on academic achievement based on the community needs,” he said.

The bill, which was sponsored by Assemblyman Greg Brower, R-Reno, and Assemblywoman Dawn Gibbons, R-Reno, would provide for the citizens of the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe to ask for a community school board made up of elected officials who would function under the county school board.

“The bill calls for petitions, signed by local citizens, asking for an election. It is a pilot program, there is a starting date and a sunset date,” Jabara said. “We would not initiate a separate superintendent or a separate contract with teachers and administrators, but it would give local control over nonsalary and the nonfixed-expense budget.”

The Douglas County School District is against the bill, and has the support of the Douglas County Commission.

“It’s another layer of bureaucracy under the sham of more local control,” said board President Randy Wallstrum. “It’s pretty strange and I honestly don’t see the point.”

Jabara said the Tahoe Citizen’s Committee is simply looking for better government representation.

“This is desired by parents and, I think, by some teachers as well as some of business community. We will look for ways to strengthen the effectiveness of the school. We want more local involvement that really represents the interests of the local community,” Jabara said.

“When we look across the state line, to the Lake Tahoe Unified School Board, their local board is responsive to Lake Tahoe and they don’t have to drive to Placerville, which is the county seat of El Dorado County. For example, they are getting ready to pass a bond, and the community supports it and it looks like it will be successful in modernizing the school. The closer the governmental group, the more successful they are at getting money for school activities.”

He said if the community board does become a reality, the board would first adopt goals of the community and establish educational priorities and a needs assessment. The community board would also be responsible for its facilities use and teacher training, Jabara said.

Assemblyman Lynn Hettrick, R-Gardnerville, said he doesn’t see a lot of support for the bill.

“I don’t think it can go very far. It seems to me most of the problems that were claimed from last time have been reasonably well addressed and I wouldn’t support it for Douglas County,” he said.

Board Vice President Cheri Johnson will be addressing the Assembly committee today, along with board member George Echan.

“We’re anxious to tell the legislative committee all the efforts we’ve made at Tahoe in the last four years and reiterate what we did at the last session in relation to schools at Tahoe and what we will continue to do. We hold every other meeting up there. We’ve held two public forums and no big issues have come up. Parents are happy and that’s our read on it,” Johnson said.

Echan said he was also questioning where the driving force behind the bill was coming from. As a Lake resident and someone who regularly attends the Tahoe Citizen’s Committee, he said he had heard no grumblings from parents, and the committee had not discussed the issue before the bill was introduced.

“There were legitimate issues two years ago, principally, the necessity for capital improvements on buildings and the responsiveness of the school board,” he said. However, those issues have since been addressed with $2 million in capital improvements to Zephyr Cove Elementary School, he said.

“I guess I just have questions about where this came from. I was not aware of a meeting generating support for the bill until after it was introduced. What is the driving force behind it? Parents who have called me have asked the same thing,” he said.

The Education Committee hearing on AB 413 will be 3:45 p.m. in room 3143 of the legislative building in Carson City.

The Tahoe Citizen’s Committee will hold a general meeting to let people know about the bill 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. at the Lakeside Inn and Casino in Stateline. For more information, call (775) 749-5000.