School roundtable volleys ideas, concerns |

School roundtable volleys ideas, concerns

William Ferchland

There was the well-received notion of a ski academy to attract students and grumblings about the office modernization at South Tahoe High School.

The teachers’ union president lamented the meeting lacked energy while a City Council member attempted to rally the troops for a trip to Sacramento for a talk with legislators.

The second superintendent’s roundtable discussion on the present and future of Lake Tahoe Unified School District brought together about 60 people Thursday night to toss opinions and volley ideas in the cavernous multipurpose room of South Tahoe Middle School.

While there were several themes, one of the more prevalent was a need to change or perish. The message was made clear in various ways, such as the presentation on the South Shore’s economy by Carl Ribaudo.

Economy faltering

Ribaudo, president of Strategic Marketing Group, a firm specializing in areas such as tourism, envisioned declining enrollment would pare the district down to 3,500 students. Next school year enrollment is projected at 4,631 students.

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“The economy is at the center of everything we do,” he said.

Ribaudo cited several phenomena contributing to South Lake Tahoe’s sluggish economy: low interest rates, a transformation of the tourism industry with people buying instead of renting rooms, increased competition from Indian gaming and the reduction of flights to Tahoe from the aftershocks of 9/11.

“We think there’s going to be a smaller district,” Ribaudo said.

Showing support

Jim Watson, principal of Sierra House Elementary, was one of the first speakers. Referring to the yellow bracelet on his wrist signaling cancer awareness, he hoped for similar backing for the district and its teachers.

“We should have a wristband to show support of what they accomplish,” he said.

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s attempt to put initiatives on a November ballot considered by some to be detrimental to education was a platform Mike Patterson took. Patterson, a former teachers’ union president who has a post with the California Teachers Association, advised people not to sign petitions for initiatives that would be used to change Proposition 98, which guarantees at least 40 percent of the state budget be allocated to education.

Questioning the remodel

One point of contention was the modernization at the high school, brought up by Patterson, also the teacher of the high school’s auto shop. Patterson questioned how the office area was approved for a remodel while other classrooms might need it more.

Another audience member hopped on Patterson’s statements, saying the theater at the high school is leaking, unbeknown to administrators.

Principal Marcia Kaster countered that all campus buildings have plans for remodel and “there are things that are happening there.”

Brown Act violation?

On Thursday night, and reportedly March 24, the night of the first discussion, four of the five school board members attended the discussion on the district.

California’s open meeting law, the Brown Act, prohibits a majority of board members from attending events at the same time with exceptions to such things as retirement parties and open houses.

Peter Scheer, executive director of California’s First Amendment Coalition, said the “core components” of the Brown Act were complied with since the meeting was open to the public and agendas were available beforehand.

“It’s not a type of violation we should get excited about,” he said.

Interim Superintendent Lorraine Garcy said she checked and received an OK on the legality of a majority of board members attending, but not verbally participating, in the roundtables.

“As long as they didn’t participate they could attend and listen to what people were saying,” Garcy said.

What’s next?

The next round-table discussion is May 4. Subcommittees were formed in four different areas: funding, public relations, vision and student programs. The four were identified as areas that need to be worked on in the first round table.

“I’m very impressed,” Garcy said. “The first went well and the second one really added to it.

“The next level is actually doing something.”