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Plenty of challenges facing Ripon Unified

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POSTED December 27, 2008 1:48 a.m.

RIPON – It’s been a historic year for the Ripon Unified School District.

With the combination of a retiring superintendent and the district facing a looming deficit exacerbated by declining enrollment packing a brutal punch, Ripon Unified had its work cut out for itself in 2008.

But that didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of other interesting events and undertakings that the last year memorable.

Here are a few of the more important 2008 happenings in the world of Ripon education:

• In January, the newly-established Ripon Community Athletic Foundation – a non-profit with the goal or organizing a grassroots effort to renovate the aging and overused Stouffer Field – got some help from the district in terms of architectural renderings of what the completed project would look like. With fundraising efforts still months away from being concrete, the partnership produced the colorful design the organization proudly features on their web site and on the literature it distributes to prospective donors.

• Superintendent Leo Zuber moved forward with plans to retire at the end of the 2007-08 school year, and the Board of Education prepared to deal with what would be only the third superintendent in the history of the district. Based on Frank Ferral’s board policy that was proposed the previous year, work began on finding a suitable search firm, and then selected a committee that represented a cross-section of the community to screen the finalists before a decisions was made. With the help Rudy Gatti and his wife Janet, the board eventually settled on Louise Nan of Konokti School District in Lake County – the district’s first female superintendent.

• California’s rocky fiscal environment didn’t bode well for retiring superintendent Zuber or paint a pretty picture for what incoming leader Nan was going to be inheriting. After facing several years of declining enrollment and now facing cutbacks from allotted state money, the Board of Education enacted a wage freeze as a measure to prevent the scenario from getting any worse. Zuber realized that the threat wasn’t immediate, but would likely surface during the 2009-10 school year. It was pointed out in a memo he released about the state of the district’s finances. His ideas for thwarting the impending crisis including eliminating all non special-ed aides in the district, and removing two primary and middle school positions. That’s because the primary grades are currently overstaffed and the release of two middle school teachers wouldn’t raise the classroom size above 30.

•A facilities use policy was adopted in the wake of vandalism on the Ripon High School baseball diamond – giving the superintendent new powers to determine who can and can’t use the athletic facilities available on the campus. Prior to the construction of the Mistlin Sports Park, available field space in the community was hard to come by for expanding sports programs.

• Led by a school administrator in a nearby district, a group of parents mobilized to voice their discontent about the shuffling of their students to other schools at a meeting in June. While Zuber maintained that it was essential to prevent the laying off of any personnel, the parents claimed that there was no policy in place to direct the trustees in their decision. The students were eventually moved.

• The candidacy announcement by longtime Ripon residents Mike Fisher and Jack DeLiddo to take on incumbents Frank Ferral and Dave Withycombe in the November election painted the picture of a very interesting political year. While Withycombe did very little campaigning, the race between Ferral and Fisher was brutally fought and seemed to split educators on either side of the aisle. While he championed his work on the recycling program and the push for a more transparent government, Fisher eventually defeated Ferral and claimed his seat. DeLiddo – who raised six children that attended Ripon public schools – also defeated the incumbent he was facing.

• At the urging of Ripon High Associated Student Body President Michael Merchant, the school board approved the creation of a student board member position that actually gave the students some power in the process that shapes their education. While the sitting member can’t register formal votes, they are entitled to cast preferential votes and question those called before board just like a regular board member. Michelle Ambrose would eventually be named to the position.

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