When the Eastern Sierra Unified School Board learned it was facing a $2.5 million deficit earlier this year, it should not have found that out at a figurative “two minutes to midnight.”
The economic writing has been on the wall for years, now.
But it did, and in three months, it cut dozens of teachers and classified staff, without the time to give the issue the in-depth kind of analysis such a radical move deserves.
Then, to add insult to injury, it held public meeting after public meeting where no school board member or leader stood up and told the audience, in plain English, exactly what was going on and why.
Instead, the district relied on its own staff to deal with an often angry audience. The end result is that many people as left as confused – or more confused –than when they arrived.
The resulting gap of information between district and community, the agenda items put on at the very last legal minute: these have created more than a fractured school district.
They have helped to drive a wedge between communities and individuals that exists to this day, with rumor replacing fact all to often.
It might be tempting to blame Superintendent Don Clark for not being a better public face for the district, as many have done. In some ways, they are right.
Clark has not been the epitome of a charismatic individual.
But it is wise to remember that he serves at the discretion of the school board. If the board had asked him to talk clearly to the public about the big problems facing the district, and to answer their questions, he would have been obliged to do so.
In little more than two weeks, North County voters go to the polls. On the ballot will be two board member seats up for grabs.
Three people are vying for the seats, all of them stating they are ready to make some big changes in how the school board handles both its community relations problems and its finances.
Although the school board recently ignored the Mono County Grand Jury’s recommendation that it tighten up a controversial housing loan to Clark by securing “a trust deed on such residence,” and by recording it with the county recorders office, there is still time to follow the Grand Jury’s other recommendation.
“County residents within the ESUSD boundaries who are unhappy with the actions of the ESUSD School Board should consult directly with the ESUSD School Board members regarding concerns about such members’ actions. The Grand Jury also notes that such residents have the opportunity, every four years, to vote for members of the ESUSD School Board and to express their satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the ESUSD School Board members at the ballot box.”