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Jenny Price
06/20/2014 9:36 AM

During public comment at the Ione City Council meeting Tuesday night, Ione Fire Marshall Deborah Mackey addressed the council with a proposal that she believes could ultimately save Ione from facing any type of recongifuration by the Amador County Unified School District. Mackey has attended school board meetings for the past month and has spoken her peace at almost every one of those meetings. Her fight for the school district to remain status quo was evident in her presentation to the board on Tuesday.

Speaking about her presentation to the council, Mackey said, “I asked the council to consider forming a committee to investigate the deconsolidation process from ACUSD and form our own district. In addition, I asked them to consult with our city attorney and see if we can file a court injunction. I am not familiar with the injunction or forming our own district, but members of the group, “Save Our Schools — Amador County,” are attorneys and have reviewed the process. I will be going before Jackson City Council next week to ask for the same.”

The Ione City Council has not made any decisions, but has made it clear where the members stand on the possibility of losing an Ione school, yet again. Mackey’s comments fell in line with various complaints that have made headway in the last few months, complaints the school district is ignoring.

Talk of numbers grew into a heated debate at the last week’s school board meeting, during which Amador County Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Tim Zearley presented the board with his preliminary figures for the school district’s draft budget. The information, though preliminary, raised concerns for those who had attended an earlier special meeting the previous Monday. The numbers at the board meeting Wednesday were different than those presented two days earlier. Zearley explained that the numbers were expected to change on a daily basis and would be finalized for a June 25 final budget reading.

At that time, the board is scheduled to approve the final budget. Until then, Zearley will continue developing numbers that are in line with state standards. This was the first required meeting, at which the Office of Education was to provide a run-through of the school’s budget to the board and to the public. When the topic was opened for public comment, a few people expressed confusion and concern, hoping that the district will provide factual data by the budget’s final reading.

The board also invited Associated Vice President of School Services Michael Ricketts to speak to the public on behalf of fiscal issues that have been debated in prior meetings. Ultimately, Ricketts said, although the budget is expected to improve as the state is making a transition from school cuts imposed during the recession, there will be an increase in school board and teacher contributions to the state fund for teacher pensions. He also stated that, upon looking at the numbers presented to him, Amador County has a deficit of more than $800,000 in its current year, which amounts to half of its reserve.

For the ACUSD, the numbers show a million-dollar deficit, but the district has a reserve to cover it. “We do not think you are in financial difficulty at this point,” said Ricketts, “but clearly, in terms of your budgeting going forward, you need to account for the fact there is spending going on.” ACUSD Board President Wally Upper asked Ricketts questions in regards to the expected drops in school enrollment, making it clear the issue was a priority that could be proved by an outside source.

Ricketts agreed that the county will see a drop in enrollment, but, because Amador is considered a basic aid district and tax-funded, the school system should potentially have enough money to survive and fund itself, if needed. “Oftentimes, in the foothills,” Ricketts added, “you become basic aid because of declining enrollment, the number of students you have is dropping, staff or not, and your large tax base can be big enough to fully fund your school.”

School reconfiguration was open for minimal discussion at the meeting, with item 14.3 as the only reconfiguration item on the agenda. According to the board, a “7-11” committee has been formed, to conduct further research, in order to provide budget findings, design options and enrollment numbers for the school system. The members of the committee represent all school facilities in the county and they will determine at their next meeting the length of time they will need to complete their findings. They will present their findings to the board either in favor of or against the reconfiguration proposal. The committee’s findings will be heard and discussed at a later date, not yet determined.

Transportation Director Doug Green presented the board with lease options that would give the county bus yard a new fleet of ten buses. According to Green, the buses currently being used to transport kids to school, field trips and sporting events are run down and have exceeded their ten-year life expectancy. In the last school year, he told the board, six buses have broken down on the side of the road, and they don’t have the money or option for spare buses. He presented a plan to the school board asking for approval of a ten-year lease/purchase at an interest rate of 2.9 percent. The cost for these buses would average $179,000 a year, but would ultimately save the transportation department and school board on mileage, repair costs and other expenses resulting from using older, run-down buses.

Green also proposed a plan to ensure all new buses are equipped with air conditioning. Currently, if a bus breaks down in 90-degree weather, the inside temperature of the bus could rise to 121 degrees, making it unsafe for the bus driver and children inside. Adding AC to buses would be at a minimal cost, one Green is willing to pay. At the end of the ten-year term, the buses will become available for purchase at $1 a bus, if the school board so chooses, or they will be returned to the manufacturer. The board approved the item. agenda, 5-0, but there has not been a timeline on when these buses will be leased or when they will be ready for use.

For details of the meeting agenda and findings, visit amadorcoe.org.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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