County Board of Education and the Sierra-Plumas Joint Unified School District Governing Board was held Thursday, March 9th in Loyalton to adopt a resolution to reduce and eliminate three full-time K-6 classroom teachers.
Public comment brought out many passionate parents and teachers. Downieville teacher Katrina Bosworth stated classes in Downieville are already combined and adding more would be extremely difficult and not a good idea for the students or their education. Loyalton Elementary 6th grade teacher and parent Laurie Petterson stated desired cuts would increase class sizes and make teaching difficult. She added that cuts don’t benefit students or this district and elementary schools are the foundation of higher education. Parent Reed Mason stated small class size is a big thing for his family and teachers at the school are everything and why they are here.
Loyalton Elementary Principal Andrea Ceresola understood the need to look at things and it seemed every March is an emergency. She felt there were ways to be creative and reminded the Board they are a school district and their business is education. She urged the Board to take time to look at the budget and where money is allocated and do this the right way, not a rushed way. Loyalton High School Principal Megan Meschery expressed that she hoped in this budgetary year instead of cutting teachers they would look at other areas where they might have over-budgeted. She hoped the process of looking at the budget could start earlier and maybe incentivize teachers to retire early. Meschery stressed they needed to be proactive instead of reactive.
Board President Kelly Champion said they had talked a lot with Superintendent James Berardi and want to be responsible fiscally. Board member Dorie Gayner said the reason she got on the Board was to be behind teachers. She stated they needed to look at everything and haven’t had a chance yet and would like more time. She added the last thing she wanted to do was to cut teachers. Board member Annie Tipton stated they were looking at all the numbers, adding her kids are here because of small class size. She wanted a committee in place to look and find other ways than cutting. Board member Christina Potter echoed comments adding she was there to support teachers. Champion stated they value small schools and that’s why they are here. She told the audience they would do everything in their power to support this. She explained this was a recommendation by the Superintendent after going through the numbers. Champion said they understood the consequences and were willing to take a risk to put this off and see what else they can come up with. Berardi stated this was the hardest thing the board will ever do and supported their decision to delay these actions. He commended the Board stating they have had more meetings than any other board he’s worked with. Gayner made the motion to delay until they could understand the budget which passed unanimously.
AN AUDIT PRESENTATION for Sierra County Office of Education and Sierra Plumas Joint Unified School District was given March 14th at the School Board meeting by Ben Leavitt of CDWL. He reported both were unmodified opinions, which is the highest quality opinion and called both entirely clean audits. He stated the financials can be relied upon by the District.
LOYALTON WATER INFRASTRUCTURE’S Ad Hoc Committee met March 2nd with Mayor Sarah Jackson reviewing its structure. She stated how it was appointed by the City of Loyalton, with participation as volunteers with specific knowledge and skill set for water improvements with no additional funding.
She called out Julie Herod who she stated at no time was delegated to represent the City of Loyalton in her conversation; was not authorized or granted that authority. Julie stated a need for transparency, facts on the well. Ad hoc member Joyce Cameron called Julie’s action “counter-productive by not clarifying yourself.” She called it “not offering us a positive step and helping to generate a level of panic.” It was stated the water is safe to drink and there is enough water to meet the current demand. If they can’t fix the 10” main there will be lawn issues. Purpose of the committee is to move forward with water infrastructure funding to get the most funding and to break ground as soon as possible.
Julie was told by Sarah, “You were causing division. I asked you to step off the committee; we didn’t assign you a task.” She further noted that the funding stream Julie was going over "we were not interested in with privatizing water.” Julie argued they couldn’t remove a person. Sarah stated City Council has to vote on a recommendation and asked Julie if she’d like her to make a recommendation but agreed she could technically sit there with the committee. Julie told of a connection with Governor Newsom and a scheduled meeting and questioned the committee on its knowledge of FEMA. Joyce was “glad you’ve reached out” but without anybody’s knowledge. Sarah encouraged Julie to share FEMA information with Council member Dorie Gayner so she can reach out.Council member Joy Markum called it “disruptive and consuming,” before moving on with the agenda. In the absence of Jonathan Reeves, Water System Operator, Sarah stated Ken Bennett is interim and has “taken over seamlessly.”Sarah told of all USDA submissions and not having to do individual grants. She stated how USDA is “very familiar with the situation and timeframe.” She told of “inviting former Water System Operator John Cussins back for spring and summer.” Next meeting is April 6th at 5:30 p.m.
During the Town Hall, Mayor Sarah Jackson stated the water system is still stable and there is safe drinking water. They have submitted the USDA planning grant, for initial construction repair
and equipment for $150,000 and the $1 million initial construction grant. She told of the $80,000 State Drinking Water Resources grant extended to June 30th to repair the leak outside Van Daam’s property and Belli has confirmed they would have their property cleared by April 1st to access the pipe. Sarah stated she’d contacted Mr. Cussins to come back and assist them in replacing the 400’ of 10” main across 4th Street alley between Belli and Van Daam properties to the original leak abandoned due to the marsh pond, back to where it crosses the creek, hopefully by June 30. They are self-funding that portion of repair. They need the 10” line replaced prior to summer to accommodate summer watering outside so there is enough water pressure to sustain fire suppression within City limits and to maintain household water usage. She warned, you can drink water, flush toilets, do laundry and shower. But you can’t water the grass until the line is replaced.”She continued that “anytime there is a fire issue,” and they need to draw on the fire hydrant the water operator is on standby to monitor pump pressure and tank levels to ensure there is enough water in the tank to fight fire and to meet the City’s need and not collapse pipes or run out of water during fire suppression.
From the audience, Marina Foreman asked if there was enough money to pay Cussins and was told he offered as a volunteer and they “can make it work.”
Mike Welbourn questioned if they don’t get the line in, who’s responsible for the dead lawns and asked if they have an alternative plan. The mayor stated there was “no way we could be a landscaping business.”
If they had the money they’d fix the pipe first, but Mike pressed it as an environmental issue.
Under questions by Julie Herod, Sarah stated they have $80,000 toward the Belli fix and have 70% of connections and valves to make the run work, needing labor and excavators with a goal by June 30. “May and June may be dry lawns,” she stated and told that the City will be borrowing from itself with sewer funds.
She told of the City’s two wells not working to capacity, dialed back at the park from 700 gallons/minute now at 490. She stated the #3 well at the hospital has an iron bacteria that needs to be cleaned and uses more chlorine and gives the other well a break. She called the park well in great condition. There are two holding tanks that test clean daily, “every day.”
John Eberhart questioned composition of water pipes, pre World War II, hammer, chistle, rock and testing which is made by random faucets with four samples taken every day. Council member Jerry Gerow called testing the most important thing. The Boil Water Notice in October was called “the first failed test in decades” by Sarah.
Concerning water tank levels, it was stated during the Chandler fire, tanks were not below 14-15 feet and Ken Bennett monitors it. As for testing hydrants, it was stated the fire department “needs to chat.”
Under further question of why no water meters, it was stated they were never all installed, meters broke and needed the system completed and that some properties share pipes. Joyce Cameron had served on that prior Council, stated the current Council had nothing to do with it and gave Mayor Sarah Jackson kudos with crowd applause.
Raelene Whitley told how her street “is a mess,” and was told they won’t have to dig the street again.
Eberhart called the water system “shot;” and asked why they weren’t hiring to dig pipes up to handle everything. “We foot the bill,” he said. He further asked why not go back to the County to which Supervisor Terry LeBlanc answered, “The County’s not rich either.” Sarah explained how the City operates on 17% from the County plus water and sewer
fees. Jerry stated they’re “Working our way out of it.” He told of five breaks the first year he was here and “we’re moving forward.”
A PROCLAMATION OF LOCAL EMERGENCY due to severe storms commencing February 21, 2023 was unanimously approved by a resolution of the Sierra County Board of Supervisors at its regular meeting held March 7th in Downieville. Transportation Director Tim Beals explained a proclamation of local emergency can be called when there’s an imminent threat or when the Director of OES feels the County resources are being stretched to the point of significance. Damage has to exceed a certain amount to continue the proclamation and Beals stated they’ve exceeded that just in equipment cost alone. The proclamation will have to be ratified every 60 days for a continued presence of the local state of emergency. He said they were having a continued discussion with FEMA and OES. OES considers these storms as a series of winter storms and FEMA looks at each storm as an event. CAL OES is advocating on all behalf of all the counties to allow these series of storms to become one event. He talked withAssemblywoman Megan Dahle’s chief of staff and Congressman Kiley’s representative. Beals felt these storms rivaled those bigger storms they had in the 70’s and have taxed County resources. He wanted to recognize the fine work of the County Road Crew, County staff, Caltrans, and PG&E during these storms. He added that PG&E committed a lot of resources to the County and communication has been great.
Beals stated they are in the process of continuing to update the cost estimates for what the County has incurred. State OES has been great, providing a generator at the Downieville school. He said the generator will stay at the school for as long as they need it. They opened a warming center and coordinated with PG&E. The County staffed the warming center and PG&E shipped pallets of water, down throws, a couple hundred go-bags which included a portable power supply, blanket, water and some snacks. Beals reported over the last few days they saw 150-200 people and most of the material provided by PG&E was nearly exhausted. He stated the power problem provided challenges to Goodyears Bar and other communities for generator fuel so they opened up the Goodyears Bar Road Department Yard for emergency generator fuel two hours a day. The service was only available to Sierra County residents without power and fuel was limited to 10 gallons per residence without power. Residents would be billed for fuel at county cost.
There was a meeting that afternoon to go from snowplows to sandbags to get prepared and get available resources and plans in place. Beals said sandbags would be available at the normal places. They hired a contractor for snow removal to some of the outlining roads and retained a tree contractor for roads. Supervisor Lee Adams reported the Governor signed an emergency order for 13 counties and Sierra County was one of them. Supervisor Paul Roen stated they have no idea what the effects are yet and through this resolution, school cancellation days will be forgiven. Beals added the proclamation would also cover schools and special districts.