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October 26, 2006

Heading: IN the News, photo of Jacoby creek school

The Town Dandy busy reporting this week and will return next week.

Short Stories
Cop shoots teen, city reels again

'Country club school' seeks cash
Measure Y would end Jacoby Creek's trailer days

story & photos by HELEN SANDERSON
Above: Third grade class outside Jacoby Creek School.

Zephyr Markowitz was the picture of a good neighbor Friday afternoon. Clad in jeans, her silver hair shining in the sunshine, Markowitz collected roadside trash from blackberry brambles along Old Arcata Road.

She didn't seem to mind the chore, maybe because she's a landscaper by trade. But when asked about Measure Y, Markowitz made it clear that there is a limit to her neighborliness.

The proposition on the upcoming ballot for Bayside voters, Measure Y, would provide the Jacoby Creek School District $2.5 million to build nine new classrooms for the school's 420 students, replacing the eight trailers the charter school has leased for decades at a cost of $40,000 a year. Property owners would be taxed $30 per $100,000 of assessed property value. The ninth classroom would be used for drama and art classes.

"In general, I don't say no to things," Markowitz said, taking a break from her task. "I've voted for school bonds before but there's something about this that's really irritating to me."

What bothers her is that a majority of Jacoby Creek School students -- 58 percent -- are not residents of Bayside, but transfer to the school from outlying areas like Arcata, Eureka and Trinidad. To its credit, Jacoby Creek consistently blows away all other Humboldt County schools' test scores and has won a number of state and national awards. And while other school districts face declining enrollment, Jacoby Creek has grown in recent years and now remains steady. Administrators say in an effort to keep class sizes at 20 students, with two classes per grade, the K-8 school has no intention of expanding despite its waiting list.

But top ranking or not, Markowitz said she and her land-owning neighbors should not foot the bill for other people's kids. Additionally, other taxes are straining her budget. Just in the last year, Markowitz' water bill increased 45 percent. And with the Fire District Assessment -- which she supported at the polls -- that's $200 to $300.

"It's just not reasonable," she said.

On the opposite side of the Old Arcata Road, about a mile away, Catherine Girard led her third graders on their weekly power walk. Girard, who's been at Jacoby Creek for 20 years, considers herself lucky for never getting stuck teaching in a portable classroom. The "portables" are energy inefficient, dark, damp, cramped, the heating systems are noisy and the floors are weak and bouncy.

"It's a shame we have to fund schools through bonds, but that's how we do it in California," she said, adding that since Proposition 13 passed, effectively capping property taxes in 1978, schools have been rotting from the inside out. "Eureka has a bond, McKinleyville has a bond."

So do Arcata, Freshwater, Pacific Union and Loleta. Fortuna is also attempting to pass a school bond this election cycle, Measure X.

"Everyone is paying for the betterment of education in Humboldt County," said Eric Grantz, superintendent and principal of Jacoby Creek. "Jacoby Creek is certainly behind."

Grantz, who's helmed the one-school district for four years, said bonds are the only way to upgrade the buildings and that it would be better to take action now rather than to wait for construction costs to rise. If the measure passes, he said he will begin the process of hiring an architect the very next day, on Nov. 8. Grantz estimates construction will take three years to complete.

photo of Jerry Partain"We are trying hard to take care of our most precious resource," Grantz said Tuesday, referring to the students. "The opposition is a little hard to understand."

Grantz meant to say Jerry Partain is a little hard to understand. You know, Bayside Jerry. Jerry the former Director of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and World War II veteran. Founder of HSU's Department of Forestry Jerry. Eighty-one-year-old Jerry, who stands proudly in front of Jacoby Creek School every weekday morning with an enormous sign that reads "No on Y," waving at passersby.

Left: Jerry Partain

On Friday afternoon Partain and his wife Betty stood in the kitchen of their 99-year-old house stacking yellow, tri-fold "No on Y" fliers to be mailed to their neighbors. "Only 950 of us are asked to pay for 240 students, none of whom live in this district," said Partain, who wore a" No on Y" T-shirt.

Top among the issues about Measure Y that offend Partain most is that the parents of Jacoby Creek students are rich. He accuses the "country club school" of leaching the best Humboldt County students from other areas, exacerbating enrollment problems at other schools. Each student reaps $5,200 for the school they attend, and when the student population drops significantly, programs are cut.

The income inequity Partain is heated about is highlighted best by the numbers of kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch: Only 16.7 percent of Jacoby Creek students qualify, while neighboring schools in Arcata range from 41 percent to 72 percent of low-income kids.

"We're perfectly willing to pay our share, but those students are brought in by wealthy people," he said, adding that with all the parents he sees driving BMWs and Lexuses dropping off their children at school they could each afford to donate $10,000 to fix the school.

Beyond that, Partain suggested it would be better if Jacoby Creek were incorporated into the Arcata School District, so costs could be spread among more taxpayers. But Doug White, Superintendent of Arcata Schools, said the idea has been considered in the past but "there was not enough interest overall" among board members.

Until the election, Partain plans to continue his schoolyard protest. And for Principal Eric Grantz, that's fine, even if it means fielding dozens of complaints about it each day.

"I actually think Jerry is doing us more good than harm because he's so inflammatory," Grantz said. "For him to park in front of school with a 'No' sign, I can't help but think it's a big 'Yes.'"




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