This tiny school is a K-12 school, located at the western edge of Sierra County, where the population is very sparse. Although we are only two hours away from the teeming metropolis of Sacramento, and only an hour from either Marysville or Nevada City, where elementaries commonly have between 200 and 500 students and high school populations are 2000 or more, we have always had low populations, ranging from a low of 33 students back in 1989 to a high of 130 in 1995. The school had begun to tap into underserved populations in adjacent Nevada and Yuba counties in order to boost enrollment back in the early 1990s, and even provided daily bus service to those out-of-county students. However, a few years ago, the numbers started to fall again.
Our school district has been facing declining enrollment at all of the schools for the past five years, as well as an economic and legal fiasco surrounding mismanagement of funds and enrollment figures resulting from attempting to host charter schools in order to boost funding. (Of course, if you get extra funding for extra programs and students, you should expect to have to spend it on those programs and students, but that is the subject of another discussion entirely.) Last year, there began to be rumblings about closing Pliocene Ridge School, backed with claims that it was running deeply in the red. These claims proved to be partially false; in actuality, only the transportation costs were running in the red. So, the school board in the infinite wisdom of big fish in small ponds, decided to cut back on transportation.
However, those students who could no longer rely on bus service to get to our school were forced to go elsewhere (this isn't rocket science - you had already foreseen that from the last paragraph, hadn't you?). Of course our enrollment numbers dropped even further last fall, and the school board began talking about "reconfiguration". These fancy multi-syallable words helped them dehumanize the decisions they were making and the effects that those decisions were having on real peoples' lives, the students, staff and families associated with the school. Some of our staff members have worked here for over 25 dedicated years.
I discussed in a previous post how the decision came to be to close the high school and offer only a K-5 program next school year. There were several of us faced with job los/job reduction/possible reassignment. I have gone through my own personal upheavals all spring, trying to locate another full-time job with medical benefits (going half-time means an end to paid benefits). I have also had to watch my colleagues agonize over what they are going to do, and to grieve with each other over how we will no longer be able to be of daily support to one another. By this time next year, we will be scattered to the winds.
I had hoped that there would be some compassion from our district management. Even large corporations offer job counseling and retraining when downsizing. Although individuals have offered sympathy, the management has continued to withdraw support, making it even less likely for the remaining K-5 program to succeed. Our School Board member who resides in our area has told us that she thinks the nearest elementary in another district is "better". The food program coordinator has refused to fill food orders for the cafeteria, claiming we need to "use up" what we've got already. Our one Special Education teacher has been reassigned to another school, and will only be here one day a week next year on a consulting basis to the staff. This week, the School Board voted to lay off the cook completely (I have no idea what they are planning to do to feed those K-5 students next fall), as well as cut the hours of the remaining elementary support staff. We have become like captives who are gradually denied one need after another in the hopes that we will all die, eliminating the problem of having captives to look after.
Blogging has been what has kept me sane through all of this surreality. At least when I read about other peoples' lives I realize that there still is a kind, just, creative world out there somewhere, where people care about what happens to each other and try to help them. I am also keeping a gratitude journal, to remind myself of how GOOD the rest of my life is... even if I am not certain at this moment how sustainable the life I have created for myself is. One of my dear friends reminded me recently how much she has admired my resilience over the years. I have always had a job in the 19 years I have lived in this remote place. I got myself off of welfare when I was a single mom of three young children, and had the savvy to figure out how to get the help I needed. This may not be my biggest trial yet, but I sure have been grateful to the bloggers I have met in the last six months for helping me through it.