County cuts back grad funding

Continued funding to rent the Events Center for Lowry High School (LHS) 2018 graduation became an example of the county’s overall message during the Humboldt County Commission meeting Monday morning. The board agreed to contribute funding for graduation and the Drug Free Graduation party this year as it has in the past. Next year, however, that funding might have to come from the school district and elsewhere.

As revenue for the county continues to fall, an uncertain fiscal future means cut-backs everywhere. County Manager Dave Mendiola has asked every county department to reconsider their budgets and find ways to cut costs. The board of commissioners also decided that the community support grants program needed to take some cuts this year, as well.

In the course of discussing the grant arrangement with the school district, some of the commissioners expressed concern and confusion that the school district didn’t pay for the rental of the Events Center for graduation every year.

Commissioner Ken Tipton said, “I do have a problem that these students go through 12 years, 13 with Kindergarten. You’d think the school district would owe them a graduation ceremony. That’s the part that bothers me, that the County is paying it, instead of the school district.”

“What is the role of the school district with regard to the funding of that,” Commissioner Jim French asked in regards to graduation.

According to Humboldt County School District (HCSD) Superintendent Dave Jensen, the district currently covers the costs of the diplomas, security, programs and personnel for the event.

Lowry Hight School principal Ray Parks brought a group of Lowry seniors to Monday’s meeting. The students filled the first and second row seats behind Parks, who was seated at the table. The commission got to make their decisions about the Events Center rental and funding for the Drug Free Graduation Party while looking into the students’ expectant, hopeful faces.

Parks explained that graduation used to take place at the football field. When the crowd outgrew the venue, the school district approached the county for permission to rent the Events Center. For the last 10 years or more, the county has paid for the rental of the Events Center for graduation ceremonies via community support grant funds.

Some confusion arose about how the county paid for the Events Center rental. One commissioner asked if the county simply waived the cost of the rental. “Technically, we don’t waive anything,” Mendiola explained. “It’s more of a grant. We actually get a bill from the Events Center and we pay that out of these funds.”

Parks said around 200 students graduate from LHS every year. Students receive two tickets for their parents to sit with them on the floor, so the crowd sitting in the stands – approximately 3,000 people – consists of extended family and other loved ones.

He also said the school hosts a lot of events that bring in revenue for the county, such as tournaments.

Mendiola said the county makes up the money spent on the rental of the Events Center with taxes via sales from graduates’ visiting loved ones.

French said, “I definitely don’t want to be the spoiler on this thing, and I think we definitely need to step up.” He also said that the board needed to discuss the topic with Jensen prior to the next budget cycle.

“I think it’s a legitimate question, I think it’s a legitimate concern, and I think as our revenues continue to take a dive here, I think every opportunity we can to share this, I think, is one we should take. For this year, though, if there’s nothing there from the school district’s side of it, I think we should carry it.”

The commission granted HCSD $1,500 to cover the rental fee for the Events Center. However, Mendiola later explained that a second cost associated with the special flooring and construction of the stage came from a third party and the county couldn’t waive it. That cost went to the school district.

Jensen said later that he received word from the county informing him that HCSD would have to cover the cost of the flooring and stage this year, approximately $1,800, and that the county would no longer cover the cost of the Event Center after graduation 2018. “Certainly this decision is disappointing and will require further discourse moving forward,” he said.

Mendiola confirmed Wednesday that the conversation between the county and the school district had already begun.

Drug Free Graduation Party

The Drug Free Graduation Party may also need another source of funding for the Class of 2019 and beyond. The commissioners discussed the possibility of stopping the community support grant program after this year, in light of the county’s financial situation.

The Drug Free Party requested amount dropped significantly, but some of the commissioners wanted to give them more. “I’d like to give them all that they wanted, because it keeps kids out of trouble,” Commissioner Marlene Brissenden said.

French asked Parks if the Drug Free Graduation Party was effective. Parks replied, “You bet. It’s recognized state-wide, and in the west and it’s been copied by a lot of school districts. So, it’s probably one of the best things we have going for our kids.” Several commissioners agreed.

The Drug Free Graduation Party received $3,300 from the commission for this year’s celebration.

Commissioner Ron Cerri said, “See seniors? This is what happens when you show up at the meetings. You get your money.”

Parks asked if he needed to warn the Drug Free Graduation Party people that the county’s grant might not happen next year.

“Just plant the seed,” Brissenden said.

Commissioner Cerri said he fully supported the program, since it provided a community service. Brissenden agreed. French said he “will be hard-pressed to walk away from that.”

“I never want to see that program go away,” Cerri said.