Del Norte County is something of an anomaly in California; only six others house a single school district, which is served by a single county office of education.
So in his dual role as county superintendent of schools — an elected position — and district superintendent — a hired position — Don Olson says his goal has been to nail down the role each entity plays in Del Norte County education.
Olson said this has been his biggest challenge, and accomplishment, since he was appointed by the School Board in 2011 to replace Jan Moorehouse as head of both the Del Norte County Office of Education and Del Norte County Unified School District in 2011. He is running unopposed in his first election on June 3.
“The next piece is really to define the importance of the County Office of Education and the role of the county superintendent to the community of Del Norte, to the district and to other local schools that can seek assistance from the county superintendent,” he said.
The Del Norte County Office of Education provides services for the 4,000 students that live within its jurisdiction. It operates court schools, which serve juvenile offenders, and community schools, which serve a variety of students from the most at-risk to the most gifted, Olson said.
The Office of Education oversees the finances and provide educational support for Klamath River Early College of the Redwoods and Uncharted Shores Academy. It also operates a dependent charter, Castle Rock Charter School.
The Office of Education also provides information technology support for the school district and charter schools and school nurses.
This fall, the County Office of Education will close the McCarthy Alternative Education Center and reopen as Del Norte Community School at its Educational Resource Center on Harding Avenue, Olson said.
The Office of Education will also fund an educational technology coordinator, Rae Fearing, who will be available for all Del Norte County schools, including KRECR and Uncharted Shores, Olson said. Fearing will focus on the use of technology in the classroom. Olson said this position is similar to an educational specialist position, which other counties use to supplement mathematics and language arts instruction at its schools.
Other county offices of education also oversee the budgets and the Local Control Accountability Plan of the districts in their jurisdiction. But because Del Norte Unified is a single school district with one board, its budget and Local Control Accountability Plan will need approval from the California Department of Education, Olson said.
For a long time, Olson said, because the district and County Office of Education are largely staffed by the same people and work so closely together, county funds had been used to run the school district. Meanwhile, career technical education and school nurses, which are typically provided by county offices, were funded through the school district.
Olson said he is working with Lori Bomke, the district’s director of fiscal services, and Jeff Napier, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, to “structure a district budget that’s truly balanced.”
“What we looked for is what are actually applicable services that county offices can fund to assist the district,” Olson said, adding that the education technology coordinator position was funded with school district funds.
Next year that position will be funded through the County Office of Education, which saves the school district money, Olson said.
“One of my goals is to
School Board President Don McArthur, who was elected in 2010, was one of the trustees who hired Olson as superintendent and appointed him as superintendent of schools. At that point, McArthur said, there wasn’t a clear distinction between the district and the County Office of Education.
“I don’t think for us that it was quite as clear how different or that there was so much of a difference,” McArthur said. “It’s been really an educational process to find out from Don that this is not how it’s supposed to be. The county delivers services to the district, and they aren’t the same, and we don’t have the same level of oversight over the county operations that we do over the district.”
In Del Norte County, the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees also functions as the County Board of Education. The County Board of Education approves the Office of Education’s budget, sets the county superintendent of schools’ salary and reviews the independent charter schools’ charters.
Lori Cowan, who has also been on the Board of Education since 2010, said Olson has been really supportive of county programs.
“Don has done an excellent job in separating the district from the county,” she said. “Each of them will be taken care of much better in the long run.”