Friday, April 18, 2014

Harris bows out as school board trustee by recommending some changes

Cathy Haskell, left, Dorrie Sobottka and Frank Thomsen talk with Richard Harris after his final Davis school board meeting Thursday. Fred Gladdis/Enterprise photo

From page A1 | December 07, 2012 | Leave Comment

Retiring school board trustee Richard Harris — who led the campaign to pass the Measure E school parcel tax in November rather than run for re-election — took part in his final board meeting as a trustee on Thursday night. And as he bowed out, he cited some achievements, acknowledged a few disappointments and offered a bit of advice to his fellow trustees and the community.

Harris acknowledged that when he proposed Measure E earlier this year — it was the second parcel tax that the school board asked local voters to approve in 2012 — there were some political observes who wondered what the heck he was doing.

At the time, Harris described Measure E as a “Hail Mary pass” to sustain school district funding at its 2012 level. And in the end, Measure E racked up a 69 percent majority vote on Nov. 6.

Harris acknowledged a list of volunteers who helped put Measure E over the top, and he praised local voters for approving school parcel taxes again and again in recent years, allowing the Davis school district to make fewer cuts to classroom programs than other school districts as state funding for education was slashed.

“But Measure E was about maintaining, not about adding on,” Harris said. “Maintaining is not excellence. The status quo is not good enough.”

Harris said it’s time for the Davis school board “to have a community conversation and look at everything — facilities, programs … maybe schools that serve grades K-8 and a four-year high school, maybe lower class sizes for elementary kids. There is a heck of a conversation that needs to be had with the community” about how schools should be organized in coming years. “Think big,” Harris urged.

Harris also noted that he ran for the school board in 2007 as a “green schools” advocate, and that there are now electricity-producing solar panel arrays at Korematsu Elementary, Harper Junior High and Davis High schools. Harris said that many people, including school board trustee Sheila Allen, had worked to make this happen, and he urged the school board to keep pursuing “green” projects at other schools.

Harris said that his “biggest disappointment” was the reduction in career technical education classes during his  years as a trustee. “Parents are afraid of letting their kids take shop classes, so the demand is less,” and state budget cuts forced the  district to drop some CTE classes that Harris would like to have maintained. “We have taken a tool out of out the (educational) toolbox,” he lamented.

He also urged the school district to pursue construction of a new multi-story building at the site of the current school district offices in downtown Davis, with retail space on the ground floor, and school district offices and some residential units upstairs. Such a building could generate an ongoing stream of lease revenue for the district, he said.

Harris proposed that a semester of music be made a graduation requirement at the high school level, saying that students would benefit. He also urged the school district to pursue more up-to-date technology, acknowledging that many of the district’s computer systems are 10 years old and largely obsolete.

Harris received accolades from his fellow trustees, from Yolo County Supervisor Jim Provenza (a former school board trustee); representatives of State Sen. Lois Wolk and Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada; Davis city council members Lucas Frerichs and Dan Wolk; and community members Norb Kumagai, Hiram Jackson, Bob Blattner and others.

Several speakers noted the sometimes crusty sense of humor that Harris displayed on many occasions — indeed, his fondness for spontaneous one-liners sometimes got Harris into  hot water. “You introduced a real sense of humor to the school board,” said Provenza, adding (in jest) “If you want to write some jokes for the Board of Supervisors …”

“I’m not going away,” Harris said. “I like public comment. I’ll still be here every once in a while.”


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