The county office–and schools–should be consolidated

Coming to Nevada County?

Coming to Nevada County?

County Superintendent of Schools Holly Hermansen told The Union a couple of years ago that the superintendents of Nevada County’s school districts weren’t clambering for consolidation.

Well, duh!

That’s not the most clueless comment I’ve heard from a public official since moving to Nevada County in 2000, but it is an example of how bureaucrats are reluctant to cede any part of their fiefdoms. The more school districts we have, the more employees she can justify at the county Office of Education.

The office’s web site currently lists more than 50 employees (that doesn’t include part-time consultants) and Hermansen’s been lobbying for a bigger building that can consolidate the three facilities her employees occupy now.

At least two members of the county Board of Education, Marianne Slade-Troutman and Jack Meeks, think she wants a “new and enlarged Taj Mahal for her expanding administrative bureaucracy,” a charge made in a letter to school administrators in November and repeated in The Union last week.

Hermansen has said that a new facility has been under discussion for two years, that she believes it can be done in a “cost neutral” manner, and that no funding will be diverted from school programs to accomplish this.

In a follow-up letter to school administrators, Hermansen wrote: “The letter you received has not been approved or discussed by the rest of the county board or my staff. The areas addressed in the letter have been created independently by Ms. Slade-Troutman and Mr. Meeks.”

Why elected officials need her approval to voice their opinions is a subject for another day, but such petty infighting does distract from the need to discuss the consolidation of schools.

School enrollment has been declining for several years–Grass Valley alone is down more than 30 percent in the last 10 years–and our elementary school districts–all with three schools or less–have been laying off staff and cutting programs.

A lot of people resist the idea, citing loss of local control, longer travel distances for students, and even nostalgia.

Local control? It’s difficult to get enough people to run for open school board seats (forget about competition), and the big decisions about funding and what is taught in our schools are made in Sacramento anyway.

Longer distances? That’s part of the pine cone tax we pay for living here. Nostalgia? Teachers, not buildings, educate our children.

To their credit, the Pleasant Valley and Ready Springs Union school districts are discussing consolidation. The seven other elementary school districts need to get on board so the surviving schools can provide a comprehensive education to our children.

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