Two headed for vacant Nicasio school board seats

09/12/2018

The race for two vacancies on the Nicasio School board is uncontested, as just two candidates stepped forward to fill the seats come January. Mark Burton, an attorney who has lived in town for nine years, served as president of the school foundation and has one child going into seventh grade at the school, will take one seat. Elaine Doss, a 40-year resident of Nicasio who worked at the school for 21 years as a teacher, assistant principal and principal, will take the second. “My goal is to make sure that the Nicasio School lasts,” Ms. Doss said. “It is a jewel of a school.” Founded on the town square in 1866, Nicasio School now faces challenges with enrollment and financing. It currently has 39 students, down from an average of 50 over the last few decades. Three classrooms combine kindergarten through second grades, third through fifth grades, and sixth through eighth grades. In recent years the community has struggled to fill board positions and recruit parent volunteers. “There’s not a ton of influx of young families in Nicasio,” Mr. Burton said. “It’s not like they’re building a lot of new housing, so it’s a difficult area to have families move into.” Ms. Doss said she was contacted to run for the board over concerns that the seats wouldn’t be filled. Madeline Sloane, who served on the board for 14 years, and Jason Snell, who served for five years, are both stepping down. The third board member, Michelle Rutledge, will continue to serve until 2020. Financing is another challenge facing the district. Nicasio doesn’t get money from the state, instead getting funds through property taxes. “It doesn’t work out to be easy,” Ms. Doss said. “There’s always the chance that we would just get absorbed into another district.” The school foundation generally contributes 10 percent of the roughly $1 million budget, which goes to arts, foreign language, and P.E., but the reliance on year-to-year fundraising can lead to budget anxieties. “The foundation has a big role in raising money that is in large part devoted to helping our Spanish services—not only translation services, but also Spanish language programs,” Mr. Burton added. For him, keeping the student population up is a priority, along with serving English language learners. It has also been difficult for the school to balance classroom sizes. The bubbles that form in certain grades put the school in a challenging position, and forced it to turn away any transfer students and deny re-enrollment to three students in 2016. “It’s something that we hope to avoid in the future,” Mr. Burton said. “Any student allowed to transfer should be allowed to stay.”