By Terry Northcutt

Having been involved with the Pinecrest Elementary School since 1970 and having spent seven years on the Twain Harte School Board — two of them as president — I believe I can speak with some authority on the idiosyncrasies and history of this unique school.

PCES started in the early 1950s, first in a residence, later in the firehouse and in 1956 in the former construction office for the Tri Dam Project. This kindergarten through eighth grade school was originally part of the Columbia School District, this was from back in the day where water was king and to protect water rights the boundary went from Columbia all the way to Donnells.

At the time Pinecrest was classified as a Small And Necessary School as such additional monies were paid by the state over and above what would have been a normal ADA funding model. This was great for the host district since the additional monies were distributed over all of the attendance thus making Pinecrest a cash cow for its host.

In approximately 1995 Pinecrest transferred to the Twain Harte Long Barn School District, which logistically made sense given the distance between the school and the rest of the district. When Twain Harte took over PCES it was still very attractive, still having the designation of a Small and Necessary school as well as being a totally debt-free campus and it came with a large dowry to the new host.

This is where the story really starts to get interesting. Now Pinecrest is one of three campuses the others being Black Oak and Twain Harte. You hear the old saying that you never want to watch sausage being made, wait until you start dealing with school finances.

The accounting between the three campuses was so convoluted you had no way of knowing which schools were making money, holding their own or going down in flames. Factor in the state once again, which in an attempt to make all districts equal, goes to a straight ADA funding model and does away with the Small and Necessary School funding.

This was still tolerable to the district since while the rest of the district was experiencing declining enrollment PCES numbers held steady. In fact, a study done early in my tenure as Board president found that over a 40-year span, Pinecrest had the most stable enrollment of any school in the district.

Then came the next change with Twain Harte District’s continuing decline in enrollment. The district used a new funding model called Basic Aid, which means school funding was based almost exclusively on property taxes collected in the district boundaries. It no longer mattered how many students you have or how many campuses you support.

Over the years, animosity has continued to grow between the lower campuses, faculty and staff largely feeling that the Pinecrest students had advantages the other students did not when in actuality it is the other way around. What made PCES so successful was parents and the community pitching in to do whatever was needed to give students the best possible education.

The year the District (less myself) saw fit to close the school PCES ranked eighth in the state in academic achievement.

Some have said the possible charter school at Pinecrest could cost the District over $200,000. Just remember you can’t lose what was not yours to begin with, and the Pinecrest area generates over $600,000 in taxes.

The Tuolumne County Board of Trustees now has an opportunity to right a wrong and give back the High Country Community’s school.

Terry Northcutt has lived in Cold Springs for 57 years and is past president of Twain Harte School District, past president of Mountain Youth and Community Theater, past president of Twain Harte Rotary, current president of Call To Inspire School Anti Bullying Campaign and current member of the Executive Advisory Board for Habitat for Humanity.

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