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Jerry Budrick
06/12/2014 3:29 PM

Joel Mottishaw

Guest Commentary

It is no secret in this county that the cities of Jackson and Ione hold the largest populations, enroll the most children, and provide the most funding to the ACUSD. It is also no secret that three decades ago, Ione high school was closed, and all the students were forced to leave their community high school for a 20-minute bus ride up Highway 88 to Jackson/Argonaut high. Thirty years later, Jackson and Ione are being pushed into the middle of yet another reconfiguration that will:

1. Close Ione Junior High School and bus the kids to Jackson for an additional two years.

2. Close Jackson Junior High school and bus the kids to the high school campus, and close the high school and bus the kids to Amador high.

Usually, this is the point where I get the question, “So, if you don’t like that, then what do you support?” My response? I support fiscally responsible decisions that are made based on clear and concise information provided by a district who, above all else, has all the students’ best interests in mind. Next I get the question: “That sounds great, but what does that mean when applied to our current situation?” What this means is that before we do anything, we need to determine what will provide the best learning opportunity for all students. My approach is really quite simple…

Step 1: Determine how sustainable our district’s current financial situation is and what our county’s expected growth rate is for the next 30 years.

Step 2: Once we realize that this is not a situation that needs to be hastily pasted together by closing major campuses, cramming all high school students onto a 103-year-old, undersized and congested Amador campus, and disrupting the learning experience for hundreds of students, then that’s the point where we can start to talk about real plans. Here’s mine:

The most important weighting factor in this decision, for me, is ensuring that students continue to be educated in their local communities and that education is provided with the most comfortable learning environment possible. With the district’s current direction, this will not be the case for hundreds of students. If it is determined that we must reconfigure, then our emphasis, at a minimum, should be to keep K-8’s local. Next, I would do a cost comparison study to evaluate two high school options between: Building an entirely new centrally located high school campus to provide for all of Amador County for generations to come, and rehabilitating the Argonaut campus so it could be utilized for at least the next 30 years as the one Amador County high school.

I believe these are the only two long-term sustainable reconfiguration options available. Either one will provide additional campus space to accommodate for growth, added classrooms for elementary/junior high, and give students the ability to remain educated within their own communities.

It was unfortunate that while on the reconfiguration committee we were not allowed to evaluate either of these options due to the requirements given that no additional funding mechanism could be considered. This severely limited our abilities to provide the best recommendations to the board. We documented it with emphasis in our final written report and verbally relayed it in front of the board, but so far it seems to have fallen on deaf ears.

Obviously, a brand new high school will be expensive, rehabilitating Argonaut into a state-of-the-art high school will cost some money as well. Make no mistake though, both of these options would free up money we currently spend on an additional campus to provide the added electives, athletics and programs we all want to see come from any reconfiguration. We need to weigh what our priorities are and make a decision based on progress and the future of our county. More than likely, what most of us spend on one or two trips to Starbucks (or Java Drive) per month would be enough to provide (with a school bond) one or both of the options stated above. So, yet again, I will ask: Are we going to allow ourselves to be led down an agenda-driven path that will be detrimental to our children’s education or are we going to recognize what’s best for the students, the teachers, the parents and the future of our community and pass a bond that will provide the best educational experience for our kids now and for generations to come? Let’s do this, Amador County.

Copyright © 2014 Amador Ledger Dispatch
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