Mammoth Unified seeks self sufficiency

Staring down a looming 25 percent budget cut is enough to rock any company CEO—or maybe instead, it’s enough to demand change.

It is the latter that Mammoth Unified School District Superintendent Rich Boccia bet on Monday, when he called together about 52 locals to plot the future of the district as it confronts the worst school budget cuts in anyone’s memory.

“It’s time to circle the wagons,” he said to a room full of people that contained Mammoth Lakes Police Chief Dan Watson, Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory, former MMSA vice president of human resources Jack Copeland, Mammoth tourism chief John Urdi, business owners such as Tom Cage, Mono County Supervisor Byng Hunt, and parents, teachers and residents from the community.

A $3 million cut to a $12 million budget could bring the school district’s reserves to about 8 percent in about three years, halving the current reserve rate of 17 percent.

Then there’s the possibility that the state also might hit Mammoth even harder, because much of Mammoth Unified’s revenues come from property taxes, not from the state. The possibility that the state might come after some of that is real, Boccia said, as the state desperately tries to solve its budget problems on the back of education.

“My dream is to be self-sufficient,” he said. How does Mammoth take care of its own children? How does it make up for what the state can no longer provide, he asked. What does this community have in the way of intellectual resources? Could they be tapped to tutor, teach, counsel? How does the district communicate with parents, teachers, the community at large and is it working? What kind of technological challenges are we facing and what can we do about it? How does the district transcend the achievement gap between English language learners and native English learners?

Most of all, he challenged the groups that met to do more than talk Monday.

“Bring back a plan of action and show me who’s going to carry it out,” he said.

For example: One group’s task was to take on the issue of finding the intellectual resources in the community that could be used to help students succeed or gifted students transcend the limits they might otherwise have in a small school. Although the list below is specific to one task area, the same process occurred with every other area.

“We are very rich in this area, between our parents and community members,” said one resident. “There are lots of people in this room who want to help a child but don’t know how to do it. So, identify the needs and then ask them. People need to be asked. They want to help and will if they can. But only ask them when you know exactly what you are asking for, so they have a clear and achievable goal.”

The group agreed to:

• Compile a list of intellectual resources in the community; people with degrees, areas of expertise in science, math, English, drama, etc. Update it frequently, then begin to match it to specific students who need help or are gifted and need a bigger challenge.

• Figure out a way to make sure every student has a mentor, especially English Language Learners, who are paying the price of the “achievement gap” between native English speakers and English learners.

• Figure out a way to be sure this model is sustainable.

• Find volunteers for the classrooms, too. Try to get one volunteer for every classroom.

• They assigned someone to each task and will meet again in the next several weeks to continue the work.

Boccia said he believes in the potential contributions from the community.

“One of my main goals for the conversation this past Monday is to continue to engage the community in the work of the public schools,” he said.

“We want to build alliances with all members of our school based on our belief in a strong public school system. We all know that great communities have great schools so what are we, as a community, willing to do to achieve that goal? At the same time, we do realize we still have work to do. This is a start and a good one.”