Showdown Thursday over future of Manila resource center

Jack Durham
Mad River Union

MANILA – There may be a showdown Thursday, June 18 in the salty outpost of Manila, where a divided board of directors may decide the fate of the Manila Family Resource Center.

The Manila Community Services District Board of Directors meets at 6:30 p.m. at the Manila Community Center, 1611 Peninsula Drive. The board is scheduled to consider transfering the Family Resource Center from the district to Redwood Coast Montessori School.

Supporters of the proposal say that the school, which rents classroom space from the district at the Manila Community Center, is in a better position to run the resource center. The school, they say, would be able to expand the resource center’s offerings.

But opponents of the change say that the Manila CSD should continue to run the program, which they also want expanded.

Click here for coverage of the last meeting when the issue was discussed.

Here is the board packet for Thursday's meeting: Packet June 18 2015r1

Below are two views on the subject. The first is from a group called Voices of the Peninsula. The opinion was submitted to the Mad River Union by Voices member Bev Prosser. After the Voices opinion is a post that Manila CSD boardmember Jan Bramlett posted today  on the NextDoor Manila social media site.

Voices of the Peninsula

MANILA’S COMMUNITY CENTER IS AT A CROSSROADS!

Voices of the Peninsula, a group of volunteers dedicated to increasing public participation in community matters, is pleased to announce the release of its final report on the results of the surveys taken of peninsula residents.

Recognizing that Manila’s Community Center is at a crossroads, Voices undertook the survey project as a means to involve community input on the site’s future use.

Redwood Coast Montessori, a tenant at the community center, is seeking to expand.  Manila Community Services District has been operating a Family Resource Center at the site for more than fifteen years and until last year had rented four of the classrooms for its operations.  Last year, the charter school expansion resulted in a loss of two of the rooms to the charter school.  Now, the Manila Community Services District board will be deciding whether to turn over one or both rooms to the charter school or to turn over operation and management of the Family Resource Center to the charter school.

Although the Manila Community Services District held two visioning workshops on Sunday afternoons in April to build community consensus in the decision-making, the majority of the participants at the workshops were not Manila residents but instead were associated with the charter school.

In contrast, Voices of the Peninsula Voices volunteers contacted a total of 372 peninsula households of which 255 were Manila households.  Of the 372 households contacted, 219 resulted in surveys of which 162 were Manila households.  Of the 162 Manila households surveyed, 94% (153) favored the Manila Community Services District retaining two classrooms for use by the Family Resource Center and community; less than 3% (4) were opposed, and another 3% (5) were neutral or undecided.

The justification offered for the transfer of Family Resource Center management and operations to the charter school is that it is an opportunity to streamline needs between the community and the school even though the charter school has not developed a plan of action, nor expressed a community involvement objective in their future tenancy.  Redwood Coast Montessori’s primary charter is for the education of the children enrolled at their school, and none of the charter school’s board’s directors are Manila residents.

Manila’s Family Resource Center has never run a deficit!  In fact, from fundraising, the Family Resource Center has a surplus.

Moreover, Voices of the Peninsula survey results show that peninsula community residents support the Manila Community Services retaining the two rooms for Family Resource Center and community use.  The majority of survey respondents identified value in belonging to a community that offered programs and services to community members, particularly children and senior citizens, telling volunteers that while they might not personally use a family, youth, or elder program, they strongly supported having such programs and services available.  Most individuals surveyed expressed a sentiment similar to the words of one respondent – I would rather be part of a community that cares for those in need as opposed to one that turns its back.

The Family Resource Center provides opportunities for community connections:  community connections that strengthen families; community connections that give youth and children recreational experiences that they might not otherwise receive; community connections that reduce the sense of isolation that can lead to health and other problems; and community connections that promote civic participation.

Also at issue is appropriate use of taxpayer dollars.  The Manila Community Services District acquired the community center property in 1991 with California Coastal Conservancy funds for purposes of public access and restoration.  An Offer to Dedicate was recorded at the time of acquisition, which binds the District to using the property for these purposes.  Additionally, a deed of restriction, recorded in 2012, indicates rental profits from the community center are to be used for recreation.  It is not clear how the District has used or plans to use rental profits for public access, restoration, or recreation.

Survey respondents’ values are not measurable in financial terms.  Based on community members surveyed, Manila CSD’s acquisition of the school and other Manila Dunes Recreation Area properties for beach and dunes access was a district decision that can be considered strongly supported.  Beach and dunes access and trails received the highest numbers for past and present participation and future availability.

Having community coastal access and trails is a benefit not easily measured in financial terms, and the same can be said for having recreation opportunities for under served or impoverished children, a place for elders to gather regularly and connect, support for families in stress, or referral assistance for individuals in need.  Survey results reflect community members’ appreciation of these indirect benefits by a showing of strong support for family resource center, senior, and recreation activities.  Additionally, community members surveyed indicated enthusiasm for having public events at the community center site.

The survey experience led Voices of the Peninsula volunteers to conclude that other than focusing on specific programs, activities, or facilities, an interesting question worth asking might be – to what kind of community would you like to belong?

For more information about Voices of the Peninsula and/or for an electronic copy of the final report, contact Beverly Prosser, 1859 Park Street, Manila, CA 95521, (707) 445-0964, [email protected]>

Voices_Final_Report

NextDoor posting by Jan Bramlett

This Thursday’s Board Meeting is one not to be missed – at the Manila Community Center/Redwood Coast Montessori School, 1611 Peninsula Drive, June 18, 6:30pm. For several months now, the Board and community members have been engaged in conversation about the direction of Manila’s Community Center and Family Resource Center, and the roles of the FRC and the RCM in our beautiful seaside neighborhood.

I believe there is a consensus in Manila that we need to improve services, recreation programs, and grow the school so that it can serve children from Kindergarten through 8th grade. More and more schools are extending elementary education through to 8th grade because it is a more stable environment for the children.

Discussion of the appropriateness of having our Water and Sewer District manage a social services entity like the Family Resource Center has been taking place for several years. According to Board minutes dated June 18, 2006, a stipulation of the MCSD signing the contract with the Department of Health and Human Services for Resource Center funding was that then-Program Manager Salena Kahle would seek a different fiscal sponsor for the program. In August, 2010, the Board asked Ms. Kahle about a new fiscal sponsor and she said she had identified some possibilities, but had not acted on it because the District seemed dependent on the funds from DHHS.

Most other Water and Sewer Districts do not manage such programs—it is not generally in their expertise. I have thought long and hard about this issue, and the idea of having an outside sponsor such as St. Joe’s did not appeal to me. I have heard people comment—and I agree—that we need an entity that is locally based, easily accessible, and responsible and responsive to Manila residents. My opinion is that Redwood Coast Montessori school fits that bill. They are right here on site, they hold Board meetings that any member of the public can attend, and in my experience over the last three years, Bryan Little has been accessible and fully responsible in all dealings he has had with the MCSD Board—he has attended nearly every Board meeting between the spring of 2013 and today, and he has been available whenever I have had questions or needed information. That’s commitment.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the Montessori method, you may want to check in with school Director Bryan Little and ask for a tour. It is quite a marvelous refuge for children to follow their bliss as they learn new things at their own pace, in a warm and supportive environment of exploration and creativity. While most public school settings are regimented and formal, with children sitting at their desks and completing tasks assigned by a teacher, Montessori believes that children should be encouraged to develop their own interests. Learning is more of an exploration of one’s curiosity than performing activities because you’re told to. Teachers are guides to a child’s creative process rather than an authority who’s there to punish you if you don’t perform appropriately. The school is actively involved in activities that focus on peace-making and preserving and respecting the earth.

Doesn’t this sound like an incredible experience? Wouldn’t you want this for your child?

For many years Montessori schools were private, and pricey, and only the wealthy could send their children there. But Redwood Coast Montessori is a direct funded public charter school—funded primarily by the State, and authorized by the Arcata School District—and the only public Montessori school in all of Humboldt County—our kids can attend for free!

The other thing about RCM is that it enjoys a great deal of parent participation and support—in fact, parents of RCM’s students are expected to volunteer a certain amount of time to school activities and are thus part of the process. The goals of RCM are completely compatible with the Family Resource Center’s goals of serving our great community through educational workshops for parents, programs for pre-school age children and play groups, teen programs to support leadership building and youth development, and helping our people to get what they need from social service resources. Director Bryan Little is willing and enthusiastic about the prospect of building a vibrant, active, and well-staffed Family Resource Center alongside the framework of the school. He and his fellow dreamers have built RCM from a single classroom in a traditional public school in 2005 into the current free-standing program that now serves 80 children, 15 of them from Manila—next year, 20 Manila children will be enrolled. Considering what Bryan Little has accomplished in this short time, I am very excited to see what the Resource Center will look like under his management. I think we are very fortunate that he is willing to welcome management of the Family Resource Center as a complementary part of this extraordinary school community—something I think will benefit both entities.

At this Thursday’s meeting, we’ll be discussing this new management opportunity for the Family Resource Center. It is bound to be an exciting and informative discussion. Please join us. Help us steer Manila toward a bright new future.

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3 Comments

  1. Voices of the Peninsula advoca said:

    A blank copy of the survey is provided in the appendix. Also included are tallies from each community. The report contains various charts with demographics and responses to the questions. In fact the appendix also contains comments from many of the residents on the Peninsula that were interviewed. A response letter to Mark Larripa’s comments about the validity of the survey is also included.

  2. Jack Durham said:

    In the interest of full disclosure, I live in Manila and I took the survey. I was asked whether the resource center should have two classrooms. My answer was, more or less, that the resource center should have as many classrooms as it really needs, be it one, two, four or six. The answer, I noted, is something that the resource center should be asked. I don’t know how my answer was tabulated.

    I asked Voices via email for a copy of the survey, but never received it.

    When I took the survey, I did so with my “citizen” hat on, not reporter hat. So I didn’t take notes. But as I recall, there were questions about various facilities, like the basketball courts. If my memory serves me right, I was asked whether I ever used the courts. Answer: No. Do I use them currently? No. Might I use them in the future? Maybe. The same was asked for all the different facilities. It was easy to answer whether I used facilities in the past and whether I used them currently. But what about the future? My honest answers to all of them was maybe. I might use the resource center, basketball courts, food pantry, etc. in the future. Anything is possible. I don’t know the future. Maybe I’ll take up boxing and underwater basket weaving. I don’t know how my answers were tabulated.

  3. Artstreet Gallery said:

    This was also on NextDoor. It is a discussion of the validity of the survey.

    There has been a lot of attention related to the Family Resource Center
    and Redwood Coast Montessori. One group (“Voices of the Peninsula”)
    has conducted a flawed survey and will be presenting the

    results at Thursday’s meeting. What follows is a
    letter I sent to the board in April questioning the validity of the
    survey.

    ~Mark

    April 17, 2015

    Manila Community Service District Manager & Board of Directors:

    I recently obtained and reviewed a copy of the Voices preliminary report
    dated April 12, 2015. While I admire the energy and commitment this
    group displayed in creating and administering the survey, then compiling
    and reporting on the results, there are significant flaws in execution
    that invalidate the results reported. I have considerable training in
    statistics, creating surveys and tests, as well as general research in
    social science and business. Here are some of the problems:

    1. No specific goal or objective was identified for the survey. This is a
    necessary first step before meaningful survey questions can be
    developed or the survey population properly identified.

    2. The population and how it was chosen was not described in the report.
    For a survey to be valid, the population should consist of people who
    have some awareness, independent of the surveyor, concerning the topic
    being investigated (i.e., the goal or objective which should have been
    identified in step #1 above). For example, a customer service survey for
    Amazon would not include people in the population who had no recent
    experience shopping at Amazon. Very few Manila residents are directly
    served by either the Family Resource Center (FRC) or Redwood Coast
    Montessori (RCM) and it is clear from responses that most respondents
    did not fully understand the current controversy concerning competition
    for limited classroom space at the Manila Community Center. The
    population selected to answer the question of whether MCSD should retain
    the 2 classrooms that RCM would like to expand into should only have
    included people who understood the implications of that choice.
    Additionally, the population selected to answer questions regarding
    future recreational and social service offerings should only have
    included people who understood that these offerings are not currently
    funded and would have to be prioritized and paid for.

    3. There was no description within the report for how the sample of
    respondents was selected for participation in the survey. For the
    results to be statistically significant the sample should either consist
    of the entire population or a subset chosen randomly from an
    appropriate population or strata within that population (should have
    been identified in step #2 above). Since neither appears to have been
    the case, the survey results are literally meaningless and there will be
    questions in the community whether specific households were targeted or
    avoided purposely to ensure pre-determined results.

    4. The geographic area included in the survey was inappropriate and
    literally all over the map. Since it was allegedly a survey on how to
    make the best use of MCSD resources, respondents should have been
    limited to MCSD ratepayers (e.g., no one in Arcata or Eureka city
    governments would likely be soliciting opinions of people outside of
    their respective service areas). According to the report, surveys were
    given to Fairhaven, Eureka and Fortuna residents who are not served by
    MCSD. This also gives the appearance of attempting to meet
    pre-determined outcomes.

    5. The survey instrument used was not included in the report, which
    makes the results even more questionable. How a question is framed can
    greatly affect the answer, and every precaution should be taken to
    ensure no bias for a particular answer is introduced by the questions
    used. See item #8 below for an example of a question with an obvious
    bias for one answer over the other.

    6. There is no discussion in the report about how the survey questions
    were created, nor how they were tested for validity (i.e., accuracy – do
    the questions actually measure what they are intended to measure?) or
    reliability (i.e., repeatability – can one expect the same results
    regardless of who administers the survey or how/when it is
    administered?).

    7. There is some dismissive discussion in the report about the lack of
    standardization for how surveys were conducted as well as the lack of
    training for the people administering the surveys. This is not a trivial
    problem and greatly affects the validity of the results.

    8. One of the unstructured survey questions included in the report is
    obviously biased towards the “yes” answers that were overwhelmingly
    reported (“Do you support MCSD retaining two classrooms for Family
    Resource Center and other future use of the community center by the
    community of Manila? There will be no cost to the water and sewer
    ratepayers.”). The bold underlined portion of the statement above
    claiming there will be no cost to ratepayers is disingenuous, because it
    doesn’t indicate that, if RCM cannot expand as expected to fulfill
    their charter, MCSD may lose a very good tenant who provides Manila with
    a number of positive effects, including reliable rent to MCSD for a
    facility that has not previously had that.

    9. The raw data was not included with the report. Without that data
    there is no way to independently verify the results reported. With no
    independent verification possible, there will always be questions about
    the survey results and the motivations behind the group conducting the
    survey. If privacy is a concern, there are a number of ways to
    disassociate the responses from the responders to allow independent
    review to validate what has been reported and to ensure that only valid
    respondents participated.

    There are currently avenues available to Manila residents to have their
    voices heard (e.g., attend Board Meetings, letters or emails, visioning
    process, Nextdoor Manila website, etc. ) so there is considerable
    skepticism in the community about any actual need for a group like
    Voices to “speak” for them. Additionally, some of the people who
    comprise the Voices group have been vocally opposed to MCSD Board
    decisions regarding RCM’s use of the Community Center. To avoid the
    appearance of bias and hidden agendas, it would serve Voices to work in a
    more transparent way in the future with the Manila Board and community
    and to clean up their research methodology before purporting to “speak”
    for Manila residents.

    Sincerely, Mark Larripa, Manila resident

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