Combining high schools not considered a good idea |

Combining high schools not considered a good idea

Combining Truckee and North Tahoe’s high schools did not earn high marks recently from the school district’s Fiscal Review Committee.

“At this point, while we’re gathering information, there really

wasn’t a lot of support,” said Roger Kahn, a Tahoe City businessman on the committee of two dozen citizens, parents, teachers, administrators and business people.

The committee considered the idea because the Tahoe Truckee Unified School District is expecting an increase in operational costs and is looking for ways to fund that increase.

Once a new school is built in Truckee, a student activity center is added to Kings Beach Elementary School and North Tahoe’s high school and middle school is overhauled, the school district will be burdened with the extra cost of maintaining them.

In five years when everything is built, it will cost $800,000 more annually to operate the new facilities, according to TTUSD Superintendent Pat Gemma.

The costs are related to utilities, maintenance and administrative staff at the school. It does not include teacher costs, which is covered by student enrollment, he said.

If the school district increases its enrollment by 450 to 500 students, it would cover the $800,000. But the district only expects to increase by 200 to 300 students in five years, Gemma said, which leaves the district short by $300,000 to $400,000 in operational costs.

Three ideas have been presented to the board and the board has nixed two of them at this time. The board has decided it doesn’t want to close Rideout School for at least three years and the board decided the district needs to convert Sierra Mountain Middle School to an elementary school to decrease overcrowding at Truckee Elementary School. One option was to lease out Sierra Mountain instead of converting it.

The third idea was to combine the two high schools in the district, with ninth- and 10th-graders attending North Tahoe and 11th- and 12th-graders attending Truckee.

The advantages to this, Gemma explained, is that more classes could be offered to the students, especially at the Truckee campus where Sierra College would like to offer college-level courses.

“They very much have a desire to have a larger presence in Tahoe-Truckee,” Gemma said.

There would also be an increased level of competition in academics and sports.

The combined high school could compete in the 4A league which would cut the cost of sports transportation because most of the teams are in Reno. Currently, in the 3A league, the students travel so much it costs about $300,000 a year.

The drawback to combining high schools is the cost of transporting students between Truckee and North Tahoe – as much as $612,000, according to an estimate by Bill Jamieson of the transportation department.

One of the committee members, Lili Jenni, a district employee, said 53 percent to 54 percent of the district students who ride the bus are elementary and middle school students.

More high school students drive their own cars.

“Most of the different groups were concerned with the teenagers on the road, as well as buses, as well as commuter traffic,” Jenni said.

Most of the advantages of combining the high schools centered around the academic offerings, while the list of disadvantages included busing, sports-related problems and less unity and ownership of the schools.

Kahn said the Fiscal Review Committee also tried to brainstorm options to save money for the district other than combining the high schools.

The top five were:

1) setting aside money from the new Governor’s budget for a special reserve while enrollment continues to be watched;

2) increase the Measure S parcel tax by $9 a year and possibly redefine what Measure S can pay for;

3) implement an electronic payroll and student records system to save money (Gemma said about $2,000 or $3,000 a year);

4) develop a distance learning program;

5) use money from the state for reimbursing the school district for building projects, but there was some concern on whether that was legal.

The school board will look at the five recommendations in September, said TTUSD Trustee Suzanne Prouty.

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