Some 31,000 students attend schools in 15 districts—including one of the smallest in the state.
Stuart Rankin / Flickr.com C.C. 2.0 License
On the final day of the school year in 2012, just moments after the last child had walked out the door, crews of workmen moved into the little red schoolhouse in Kyburz, a tiny, unincorporated community in El Dorado County with a reported population of 142. The population number is uncertain, because Kyburz appears not to have taken part in either the 2020 or 2010 United States census. The schoolhouse was and remains the only one in the Silver Fork School District, the smallest of El Dorado’s 15 school districts.
The district’s enrollment figure of eight students in grades ranging from kindergarten through eighth makes it the fifth smallest in the state, and less than half of the second-smallest district in El Dorado County. That would be the Indian Diggings School District, which according to the California Department of Education had 22 students as of October 2021.
Working through the summer, the crews renovated and re-roofed the six-decade-old Silver Fork School, added new high-tech educational technology, upgraded the building’s energy efficiency and accessibility under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and repaved the parking lot. They even resurfaced the school’s outdoor basketball court.
But the most significant upgrade the workers gave the old school was a second classroom. One of the 14 remaining one-room schoolhouses in California became a two-room schoolhouse. The oldest standing one-room California school, built in 1872, is Lincoln School in Marin County.
Indian Diggings also started as a one-room schoolhouse, in 1856. Most schools in the county since its founding—as one of the state’s original 27 counties in 1850—were private, but within a year of the Indian Diggings school’s creation, there were more than 1,200 public school students throughout the county.
The Indian Diggings district, one of the county’s first, was organized in 1867, but though the elementary school building has been rebuilt, renovated and modernized—the 1856 schoolhouse lasted until 1949—the school remains the only one in the district.
Those two rural districts may be the most quaint in the county, but El Dorado’s school system as a whole is largely rural. The largest district in the county is the El Dorado Union High School District, which spans 1,260 square miles, about 70 percent of the county’s territory. And yet, the district serves only 6,665 students in four high schools and two alternative schools—including the online EDUHSD Virtual Academy, founded in 2012.
In total, there are just over 31,000 students in all of the county’s districts, according to 2019-2020 data. Though each district is independent, governed by its own elected board of trustees, they all come under the umbrella of the El Dorado County Office of Education (EDCOE), whose role is not to govern or control the operations of the various school districts, but to support them. The EDCOE provides educational programs, child development and special education services among other functions, including fiscal oversight of the districts. The EDCOE is itself governed by a five-member board of trustees who are also elected.
As in 53 of California’s 58 counties, the top administrator of the county’s school system, the EDCOE superintendent, is also elected. While in most circumstances, letting the voters choose the superintendent frees the board from needing to get tangled up in the hiring and, sometimes, firing process for the top official, that was not the case in El Dorado County in 2015.
In what the EDCOE called an “unfortunate” incident, Superintendent Jeremy Meyers was arrested and charged with Driving Under the Influence—again. He was also arrested on DUI charges in June of 2015. He pleaded no contest on one DUI charge, after three other related charges were dropped, according to a report by the Mountain-Democrat.
Because all of the charges in both arrests were misdemeanors, the board had no power to fire or discipline Meyers and in fact, couldn’t even require him to show up for work. Under state law, only a felony conviction would force his removal. What ended up happening was the board had to pay Meyers to vacate his office.
The disgraced superintendent, who was elected in 2014 after being appointed to replace retiring superintendent Vicki Barber the previous year, took home a one-time cash payout of $114,821—equal to his remaining salary for the fiscal year—in exchange for stepping down. In January of 2016, the board hired Ed Manansala, who was deputy superintendent for educational services at the EDCOE, as the new superintendent.
In 2018, Manansala ran for the office without an opponent, and garnered more than 98 percent of the vote.
An earlier controversy hit El Dorado Schools when, in a 2015 report, the county’s civil grand jury blasted the El Dorado Union High School board and specifically its longest-standing member, Tim Cary, for—according to the grand jury—violations of the Brown Act (the state’s open meeting and public information law), as well a “conflict of interest” by Cary. Because Cary is a local lawyer, who also offered his legal advice to the board, the grand jury questioned whether the dual role was a conflict.
The grand jury also slammed Cary for having “wielded too much influence over the board,” and tagged him with responsibility for the board’s Brown Act violations.
As might be expected, Cary vehemently disagreed. At a contentious board meeting after the grand jury made its report public, he protested that the jurors had never interviewed him, and called the report “a misuse of the grand jury.” He found support from other board members, and most importantly, from voters. Cary, who has served on the El Dorado Union High School District Board since 2001, remained on the board through 2021 and would next face reelection in 2022.
In addition to the 15 traditional school districts, the EDCOE also functions as its own district, operating five “alternative” schools, including Blue Ridge School in South Lake Tahoe, a Juvenile Court School for “students who have been placed in juvenile halls, juvenile homes, day centers, ranches, camps, or regional youth education facilities.”
The office of education also runs a Rite of Passage Charter high school for at-risk youth, affording them an opportunity to “move beyond their troubled home lives and negative former school experiences,” according to the EDCOE website.
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