The Closing of Kingsbury Middle School: Where is Erin Brockovich when We Need Her?

Real Estate Agent with McCall Realty

A  Recent Community Meeting with the Superintendent of Schools Fails to Ease Parent Concerns.

Community meeting of school parents about the closing of Kingsbury Middle School in Stateline, NV area of South Lake Tahoe.

(LAKE TAHOE REAL ESTATE BLOG) This one is important, and it is thorough. It comes from the recent community meeting on December 10th about closing Kingsbury Middle School. We have spent weeks on this article. There was much for us to learn. We hope we got it right, and that we  found some balance between fair play and reason. We trust it will so spring forth.

We realize potential exists for people to read this and form opinion from it, or of it, and opinion will range from agreement to none. We have done our best to express the positions of both sides. In so doing,  however, we realize it is easy for one see how we feel, which is it is premature to close Kinbsbury Middle School at this time.

Parents attend a community meeting to express their opposition to closing Kingsbury Middle School in the Stateline, NV area or South Lake Tahoe.Contents:
The Opposing Sides.
An Introduction to Radon.
The Parents Position.
The Position of the School Board.
A Comparison of School Programs and Services.
There is Money to be Made.
More about Radon at Zephyr Cove Elementary School.
It's Safe.
The Solution.
Editorial and Summary.


If our blog post sparks further discussion, debate, passion or even condemnation, then so be it. Let us assure you that the recent community meeting over the issues here sparked all of that with us.

There are two forces in opposition here, the Parents who feel it is unwise to close Kingsbury Middle School , and the Douglas County School Board who wants it closed. The parents feel that the school that will remain open, Zephyr Cove Elementary School is unsafe.

The Opposing Sides :
The primary issue here is one of  credibility. The parents do not trust the School Board. They fundamentally believe the Board's decision does not make sense. The purpose of the December 10th meeting was to address that, and hopefully alleviate it. The result of it unfortunately created more mistrust, rather than dissuade it. By exploring how the lack of credibility came to be in depth below, maybe we can help change it. Lets hope so.

(Note: about 200+ parents attended the December 10th meeting. There are 6 images here from it. The Superintendent of Schools and 3 board members attended. There were a dozen or so teachers as well. Virtually all of the parents in these images, who have school children, are opposed to closing Kingsbury Middle School.)

A parent expresses her concerns about school safety to the Douglas County Superintendent of Schools over the closing of Kingsbury Middle School. The graphics found herein summarize how the parents feel, 95% of which do not want the school closed. The graphics are not intended to inflame. Our goal is one of  facilitation, and it is our hope that the cartoons herein might help one better understand how the parents feel, the genuine depth of it, and the reasoned concern that is its foundation. If the School Board truly understands that, and appreciates it beyond their seemingly rigid position, we believe it possible for the issues here, and the profoundly hard feelings from it,  to be resolved.

Parents gather in opposition to closing Kingsbury Middle School in Stateline, NV area of South Lake Tahoe. It’s our hope that the Douglas County School Board’s intent to close Kingsbury Middle School is not a decision that will result in a lawsuit, either sooner or later, but it could, and quite likely will come to that. And that should never happen. Any and all risk of liability here is preventable. There is an obvious,  viable solution  that can meet the interests of all involved. (see The Solution below).

Community meeting in Stateline, NV area or South Lake Tahoe about the closing of Kingsbury Middle School.Here’s the Background:
The issue here has to do with school children, radon, potential cancer prevention... maybe, closing the top rated (yes, THE top rated academic one) middle school in the state of Nevada, and money... ok, that might be prejudicial, lets call it fiscal responsibility.

There is a recent article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune that will provide a more complete background on the discussion at hand (read it here). Briefly, here’s a summary of the situation.

Community meeting about excessive radon levels at Zephyr Cove Elementary School in Stateline, NV area of South Lake Tahoe. There are three schools in our Nevada community: Zephyr Cove Elementary School (ZCES). Kingsbury Middle School (KMS) and Whittell High School (WHS). Both Zephyr Cove and Whittell schools are in close proximity to each other and are accessed off of a common road, Warrior Way. Kingsbury Middle School is closer to our community’s center, some ten minutes away from the other two schools.

Enrollment in our schools has decreased, and as such two years ago the Douglas County School Board made a decision to close Kingsbury Middle School at the end of this school year. Based on enrollment issues alone, the decision makes sense. But there is a lot more to it than that.

Since then, continuing information over time raises reasonable doubt about the health and safety of Zephyr Cove Elementary School. This has become enough of a concern to the community that a sincere desire has emerged to ask the Douglas County School Board to either reconsider it’s decision to close Kingsbury Middle School at this time, or at least put the decision back on its meeting agenda for review. The Board has heretofore declined to consider either request.

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Radon gas is the leading cause of lung cancer in nonsmokers.An Introduction to Radon
Excessive, elevated levels of radon have been found at Zephyr Cove Elementary School both before and after the school board decision to close Kingsbury Middle School was made. In addition to radon, there are other concerns summarized below as well. (details about ZCES radon issues below)

A Primer on Radon: The Hazard with a Simple Solution.
Radon is a cancer-causing natural radioactive gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. It comes from the natural decay of uranium that is found in nearly all soils, and perhaps significantly so from the decay of granite, which we have an overabundance of here in the Sierra. Our mountains are granite and the site for Zephyr Cove Elementary School is carved into the mountain and thus sits on a massive slab of it.

The presence of elevated radon in your home, or school in this case, can pose a danger to one’s health. A  report earlier this year by National Academy of Sciences (NAS) confirms that radon is a serious public health threat . Radon is the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers. It is the second leading cause of lung cancer in America and claims about 20,000 lives annually. (Learn more here)

Heed The Warning:  EPA's New Media Campaign.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a new Public Service media campaign for radon. The campaign features the U.S. Surgeon General's warning that radon causes lung cancer and that you should test your home. One would assume this should be done for schools too.

Radon Causes Lung Cancer In Non-smokers and Smokers Alike.
Lung cancer kills thousands of Americans every year. The untimely deaths of Peter Jennings and Dana Reeve have raised public awareness about lung cancer, especially among people who have never smoked. Smoking, radon, and secondhand smoke are the leading causes of lung cancer. Although lung cancer can be treated, the survival rate is one of the lowest for those with cancer. From the time of diagnosis, between 11 and 15 percent of those afflicted will live beyond five years, depending upon demographic factors. In many cases lung cancer can be prevented; this is especially true when it comes to radon.

It Can Be Fixed: Ventilation is the Key.
There are several proven methods to reduce radon, but the one primarily used is a vent pipe system and fan, which pulls radon from beneath a house, or a school, and vents it to the outside.  This system, known as active soil depressurization, does not require major changes to a structure. Sealing foundation cracks and other openings makes this kind of system more effective and cost-efficient. Similar systems are what are installed in houses with crawl spaces. Radon contractors can use other methods that may also work. The right system depends on structural design.

ZCES has a concrete slab foundation:
The structure of Zephyr Cove Elementary School has a built-in problem that makes radon mitigation more difficult. ZCES has a concrete foundation, and as noted above,  the site is carved into the mountain on a slab of granite. A majority of the school has no crawl space to ventilate under it.

Radon rarely goes away without some real attention. It is possible, and some experts claim it’s easier than one might think, to reduce radon emissions to an acceptable level in a structure with a concrete slab foundation, but that has not happened yet in Zephyr Cove Elementary School in the  last 7 years. A radon vent pipe system installed years ago has been ineffective to get and keep ZCES within EPA radon emission health standards. (more details about ZCES radon issues below)

The most sure, and likely best possible solution is to rebuild Zephyr Cove Elementary School, and build it next to Whittell High School, not in its present location directly over and atop such an expanse of decaying granite. If that is not done, the next best solution is to rebuild it with a crawl space under it, with the best possible radon reduction system in place. Any other radon reduction solution, including a new Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system for ZCES, which would cost an estimated $1M, and still not address radon reduction, will not be as effective. This has been substantiated by Adrian Howe, the Radiation Physicist for the Nevada Department of Health. (See The Solution below.)

Err on the Side of Caution: (What Has to Happen No Matter What.)
From the parents' point of view, there is no other consideration for the Board but to err on the side of caution. There are children involved. Their children. There are teachers and staff at the school with potential health risk as well. It is logical that even the most remote possibility of risk, well... possible, is unacceptible for any parent to consider when it comes to the health of their child.

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 The Position of the Parents :
  In a recent polling, at least 90% of parents with school age children do not agree with the School Board’s decision to close Kingsbury Middle School in favor of Zephyr Cove Elementary School. Of the parents with children in grades K to 5, which only Zephyr Cove Elementary School serves, 95% of them are in disagreement.
That's probably true, but there's this safety issue that's hard to ignore.
It’s About Safety:
The dissent of the parents has much, if not everything, to do with Safety. This includes numorous issues other than radon (see radon in detail below), but let us not forget that the potential risks of radon comes first to them. Among some of the other safety issues:

ZCES has access issues, and may not be compliant with the American Disabilities Act (ADA) guidelines:

  • ZCES has 10 different levels inside the school.
  • Of the 10 levels inside ZCES, 2 of these levels can only be accessed by stairs.
  • KMS is on one level, no stairs-only-access issues, and is compliant with ADA guidelines.
  • There may be significant costs involved to get ZCES ADA compliant.

There is an issue about the school's outdoor playground and athletic fields:

  • KMS has a large, grass covered athletic field.
  • ZCES has a small, hard surface tarmac for a playground.
  • Ice builds up on the ZCES tarmac, making it frequently unsafe for outdoor activties.

There is an issue with the school bus drop-off and pick-up points:

  • There is a dedicated drop-off/pick-up loop at KMS for buses and personal cars.
  • There is also a place for separate parking at KMS.
  • At ZCES the parking lot and the drop-off/pick-up area are the same.
  • And the playgound is used for bus drop-off/pick-up.
  • This exposes children to vehicles coming and going.You should see them try to jump rope!

There is an issue about the space for indoor physical activities:

  • KMS has a dedicated gym, and a separate school dining area.
  • ZCES has no gym, and it has a combination indoor dining room and play area.
  • During lunch time, some 75% of the ZCES indoor play area is coverd with dining tables.
  • This set up at ZCES makes it more difficult for the children to physically exercise in the winter time.
  • The build-up of ice on the ZCES outdoor play area also adds to this difficulty.

There may be an issue with the school water system:

  • It has been recently observed that large filters are being used on the ZCES drinking water system.
  • At this time, neither the ZCES principal or school maintenance attendant has answered some parents' questions as to what the filters are for and why they exist.
  • It is possible that they do not know, and we do not imply anything else here otherwise.
  • The primary means of radon entering the human body is inhalation.
  • The only other way of consequence that radon enters the body is through the water supply.

There is a traffic safety issue: (The Intersection at Highway 50)

  • ZCES is located directly adjacent to Warrior Way, in close proximity to the intersection of Highway 50, the main, and only traffic artery serving the Nevada side of South Lake Tahoe.
  • At least one school parent has been killed in a traffic accident at this intersection.
  • Three weeks ago, a school teacher was in a traffic accident at this intersection that totaled her automobile.

Warrior Way has traffic, sometimes a concentration of it in specific time periods:On your mark, get set.....

  • It serves Whittell High School, the community library, and our main community outdoor sports complex, including tennis courts, softball fields and a soccer field.
  • Frequently drivers of high school age drive up and down Warrior Way past ZCES.
  • Some no doubt exceed the speed limit as high school children are wont to do.
  • The ZCES school playground runs parallel, and adjacent to Warrior Way.
  • On at least one occasion that we are aware of, and likely more, a child got out of the ZCES playground during school hours and ran across Warrior Way to fetch a ball.
  • This is a potential traffic tragedy that must be avoided at all costs.

KMS is located at the end of a dead end road:

  • it is about a mile from the main Highway 50 thoroughfare
  • this road serves the Lake Village condominium complex
  • the turn-off into Lake Village is more than a quarter of a mile before KMS
  • past that turn-off , the only traffic on that road serves the school
  • KMS has none of the traffic issues and concerns that are inherent to the location of ZCES.

 Some Physical Things too... with a Cost: (some are hard to separate from “Safety”)  :
ZCES was constructed in the 1950's. It is at least 20 years older than KMS. There are significant capital costs involved to bring ZCES up to standard:

  • ZCES needs a new Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) system that will cost an estimated $1,000,000.
    • -- The HVAC system will not eliminate the radon issue.
    • -- The HVAC system does not include a radon reduction system.
    • -- A radon reduction system needs to be added.
    • -- The cost of adding a radon reduction system is not known at this time.
    • -- It is unknown if there has been a request issued for bids on providing a radon reduction system.
  • It will  cost much more to bring ZCES up to standards than it will to fix the roof at KMS.ZCES needs new windows throughout that will cost an estimated $300,000.
  • ZCES needs a video monitoring system that will cost an estimated $80,000.
  • ZCES needs a public address system that will cost an estimated $25,000.
  • ZCES needs the locks on its classroom doors to be replaced at an estimated $16,000.
  • ZCES needs an ice remediation system for it’s school “playground” tarmac at at estimated cost of $6,000.

ZCES also needs:

  • new carpeting
  • its parking lot resurfaced
  • the ADA modifications noted above
  • a new phone system
  • the costs of these items are unknown at this time due to District accounting issues and practice.
  • Such expenses are included in both the District’s operating and capital budget, but are buried under the title "district wide needs", rather that itemized for a specific school.
  • In 2006, a request for a complete and itemized accounting of all of these costs was made. Since then, many other such requests have been made. No such accounting has yet been received.
  • It is also possible the presence of the water filters at ZCES could possibly indicate a need to replace its water supply system, the cost of which, if necessary, is unknown. If would certainly be significant if so needed.

 Costs: the bottom line... or Not? :
It has been reported that it will cost $1M to improve ZCES. The actual cost, while not known or documented at this time, is likely more than twice that, or greater.

None of the issues with regard to safety, or any of the costs above at ZCES exist at KMS:

  • KMS is on a dead-end street.
  • KMS has no traffic to speak of.
  • KMS has a dedicated drop-off loop.
  • KMS has no filters on it’s water supply system
  • KMS has no ADA access issues

KMS needs a new roof. 

  • There has been only one quote from one source to replace it for $460.000.
  • Quote is for a peaked, metal roof, which may or may not be the best possible, or cost effective solution.

Don't worry, both sides will only charge $400 an hour...Liability Reduction: A Potential Cost that must be avoided at, well... all costs!

  • If the Douglas County School Board continues with it’s decision to close KMS and keep educating students at ZCES in its present condition, there is a risk of litigation, and any and all related costs, fees, potential judgements and penalties thereunto.
  • Litigation could be forthcoming from individual families.
  • Litigation, and it should never come to this, could come in the future if anyone who spent time at  ZCES were to get lung cancer, and especially if it were a non-smoker, particularly so after these radon issues have been disclosed.
  • This includes children, teachers and school staff alike.

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 The Position of the Douglas County School Board :
While we can not speak for the Douglas County School Board, we can summarize in general  what we heard from the Superintendent of Schools at the meeting on December 10, 2007, and from a few of the documents cited below.

For details, any questions, and further comment, please contact Ms. Carol Lark, Douglas County Superintendent of Schools at 775-782-5134.

The idea of school consolidation was a topic of discussion at the District School Board level in 2005, and perhaps earlier. On March 10, 2005, a meeting was held at ZCES to begin discussions regarding possible consolidation. (See a review of that meeting here.)

In a School Board meeting on March 14, 2006, John Soderman, then Douglas County School Superintendent, presented the basis of consolidation of lake schools as declining enrollment. (See the minutes of that meeting here.)

A Question from the Meeting of December 10, 2007:
There are some editorial comments about this meeting in this section, and more further below, but this addresses a specific question I asked Superintendent Lark. After the break, about an hour and a half into the meeting, I openly commented that the reasoning behind closing KMS was still unclear to me, that I had not heard a compelling reason to do so yet, especially now with regard to the radon issue. I asked Ms. Lark if she would explain the Board's position succinctly, in one or two sentences so I could best understand their position. “We are closing KMS because it is more convenient,” was the answer.

They didn't teach us how to think like that here! Convenience:
When Ms. Lark made that statement, I had not seen any prior documents, meeting records, financial assumptions or anything much about this school consolidation issue. Our child only recently enrolled in KMS, he will be at WHS next year, and the truth is we knew little to nothing about any of these issues herein before researching this article. I didn’t even know until later that Ms. Lark was the School Superintendent. My wife and I came into the meeting without emotional involvement; that is not how we left it.

“Convenience” as the reason to close KMS sounded, well... convenient. To many of the parents it's misleading, especially as it was explained to them in the community meeting. Decisions like this are almost always about  money. (It's always "convenient" to have more  of it.)

Travel Time:
The principal reason we heard that had anything to do with convenience to close KMS was that it saves travel time of special teachers.

  • Special teachers serve both KMS and ZCES.
  • There are 7 of them, providing specific needs, such as music, ESL, speech, gifted and talented teaching (6th grade only), school nurse and general counselors (2).
  • Most commute here from the Carson Valley.
  • It takes two minutes to travel from ZCES to WHS.
  • It takes seven minutes to travel from ZCES to KMS.
  • A special teacher will save approximately 5 minutes in travel time from closing KMS.

Shared Resources:
The School Board cites another reason for closing KMS is sharing resources, mostly teachers between the two schools. They have indicated the following.

  • Operation of the schools will be more efficient if they were closer together (hard to disagree with that).
  • Teachers will be able to collaborate more easily.
  • It will be easier for students to travel back and forth from the two schools.
  • It is unclear what, and how often, collaboration might occur between elementary school and middle school, or high school teachers.
  • It is also unclear as to how often elementary school, middle school, and high school children have the need to attend, or visit each other’s campus’.

It Is About Money:
So here we are at what parents believe is the heart of the matter. Most people understand and appreciate financial decisions. After all, we are a nation built on puritan thrift. The financial concept of the bottom line resonates with all parents we have talked to, unless the bottom line is compromised by potential risk of any kind to one's health.

When financial decisions are made, and especially those of life changing consequence, and certainly those made by public servants for our collective good, one always hopes they are based on solid accounting practices. Those that are public, of course, need be complete with all financial records open and fully disclosed.

Saving It: Always Something to Consider:
It makes sense that it costs less to operate fewer schools. With our current enrollment, there’s little parental debate that we need three schools here at the Lake.

  • The issue then is “when” to consolidate, not “if.”
  • The radon issue, however, substantially increases, not saves, costs.
  • Moving the children to KMS can solve the issue of radon risk in the short-term.
  • KMS has a built-in ability to solve the long-term costs of first replacing ZCES, and then operating it in the long-term.

The "around-to-it" method of doing things can take some time, unless of course there is a reason to  not do it at all.A Changing Series of Reasons Why:
The first instance we have seen with regard to consolidation and costs is in a letter to former School Superintendent John Soderman dated February 21, 2006. In it is a request from concerned parents for a detailed accounting of all costs associated with consolidation. Contained in the letter is the following:

“Our first request is to see a thorough financial analysis of the proposed consolidation, the financial comparison of the options and the year-by-year projected student enrollment numbers for each grade level at each school. In response to an earlier request, you completed a cost analysis comparing the closing of Zephyr Cove Elementary School versus closing Kingsbury Middle School, and you declared it “a wash”. In order to better understand your recommendation, we would like to see the specific financial detail- supporting this opinion and the specific benefits (pros and cons) related to the quality of education for closing KMS and for closing ZCES. Please also address the physical plant health and safety issues related to traffic, radon, mold, and asbestos at the school sites.” (See complete letter here)

Still Waiting: (An Accounting Yet to Come)
As noted above, no complete accounting has been provided.

From a “Wash” to $800,000:
The second document we have seen are the minutes from a School Board meeting dated March 14, 2006. In it, Superintendent Soderman indicates that the reason for closing KMS was to save money.

  • Mr. Soderman notes considerations for staffing for both Certified and Classified employees,
  • He also notes an overhead cost savings of $800,000 per year gained from the closure of a school.
  • It is interesting that said costs were declared “a wash” a month earlier.
  • It has been suggested that $600,000 of these costs might include teachers salaries.
  • To parents' questions Soderman said "the teachers will follow the students", so it is incorrect to say that $600,000 of the savings to close KMS are teachers salaries.
  • Teacher salaries are fixed without regard to location, or consolidation, or not.

(See Board minutes for this meeting here)

There must be a good reason for it somewhere... just lemme think... Between “Save Money” and “Convenience”:
In a later School Board meeting dated June 12, 2006, it appears the move is not about saving money after all. Here Superintendent Soderman states:

  • That the decision (to consolidate) had not been a quick one;
  • That the expenses (involved) are more precise now;
  • And the basis of administration’s decision (to close KMS) was one of  “curriculum and instruction”.
  • (It is) “not about finances”, he said.

(See Board minutes for this meeting here)

Curriculum and Instruction:
One presumes that a decision to consolidate three schools into two that is based on curriculum and instruction would necessarily mean an increase in programs and services provided. The parents certainly hope this is the outcome, and that the schools here at the Lake will finally get to have like-kind curriculum and instruction programs of other, more fortunate schools in the district. At present, however, it is unknown what increases there may be, if any. Here’s a few facts that the parents cite to substantiate thier concern:

  • There are many more Electives offered to students at Valley Schools than at the Lake.
  • Currently KMS 6th grade students participate in sports. They will not after consolidation.
  • As noted above, ZCES has concrete floors in its multi-purpose room, no indoor playground, no grass recreation fields, and a playground that collects ice and becomes unsafe in the winter.

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A Comparision of School Programs and Services:
Two charts of school programs offered at Valley schools compared to the Lake Schools was presented on a PowerPoint slide at the December 10th meeting. One of the School Board members in attendance said showing this chart was “unfair.”

The parents position is it is “unfair” as well, but not from the point of view that it was unfair to the School Board to show it, but rather it is unfair for Lake School children to not have like-kind programs as other children in the school district. Despite the differences, though, Kingsbury Middle School is still the top ranked academic school in the state.

There's a little revolution in all of us... comes out when we're not seen and heard.What the parents feel is isolation. In fact it is feared. Theirs is an issue of  "taxation without representation", which is a comment we heard frequently from parents who attended the meeting. We realize such symbolic references from our country's founding can be emotional and rather dramatic. Here though, the parents feelings have very much to do with thoughts of "Fair" and "Equal." In this case, we are empathetic to the parents feelings. Their alienation we believe is justified.

None of the School Board members has a child that attends any  Lake Schools. None of their families are affected by any decision made about the Lake schools. None certainly will have a child exposed to whatever radon actually exists at Zephyr Cove Elementary School. Six of the seven School Board members are not actively involved, nor live in this community. They live in the Carson Valley.

There is one School Board member, Cindy Trigg, who represents the Lake Schools area, though she does not agree with the wishes of the constituency she serves in the matter of closing Kingsbury Middle School. She's for it; 95% of those she represents are against it. (We know Cindy. Her children went to school here. She is very much community minded and active politically.)

I spoke with Ms. Trigg privately before the meeting. Within the context of discussing why all of the parents were there, and why they are continuing to make such a fuss, Ms Trigg told us that the Board's mind is made up, the decision has been made, and they are not going to change it.  (That seemed odd and inconsistent with all of our other prior positive impressions of Cindy.)

Two other instances stood out at the meeting that bespoke the parents fears and concerns:

  • Superintendent Lark spent a good amount of time telling the Parents how much more it costs the School Board to teach a student at a Lake School compared to a student in the Carson Valley.
  • She also told the assembly of parents that they are "lucky to have schools up here at all."
  • Comments like these very much add to the parents feelings and fears.

Here’s the comparison of school programs and services from KMS and Carson Middle School, and from Whittell High School and Douglas HIgh School that was presented at the meeting. As to whether they are "fair" or not, we think these charts speak nicely for themselves.

Kingsbury Middle School Carson Middle School

Spanish (8th grade only)

French and Spanish
Web Design
Video Production
Multi Cultural Arts/Crafts
Speech and Debate
Service Learning
Journalism / Yearbook
Home Economics
Home & Careers
Outdoor Science
Extracurricular Activities:
Honor Society
Intramural Sports
Extracurricular Activities:
Art Club
Drawing, painting, Origami
Academic Olympics
Builder's Club
Chess Club
Classic Movies Club
Computer Club
Knitting Club
Science Games
Cross Country
Track & Field

Cross Country
Track & Field

 Whittell High School Douglas High School
•Web Page Design
•Desktop Publishing
•Digital Video Editing
•Accounting 1,2,3
•British Lit.
•Technical theater
•Spanish 1,2,3,4
•Environmental science
•Agricultural Science
•Natural Resource Mgmt.
•Veterinarian Medicine
•French, Spanish, German 
•Human Anatomy
•Cooperative Education Class
•Creative Writing
•British Lit.
•Screen Printing
•Design and Construction
•Jazz Choir
•Digital Video Production
•Computer Graphics
•Mechanical Drawing
Extracurricular Activities:
•Honor Society
•Key Club
•Speech and Debate
•Black & White Choir
Extracurricular Activities:
•Academic Team
•Alpine Club
•Amnesty International
•Marching Band
•Block D
•Flag Team
•Honor Society
•Iron Tigers
•Latinos Unidos
•Key Club
•Living Proof
•Speech and Debate
•Skills USA
•Young Democrats
•Young Republicans
•Cross Country
•Ski Team
•Cross country
•Ski team

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You know, $10 million dollars is hard to ignore, even if it isn't yours. There is Money to Be MADE?
Ah ha! There may be method to the reason for consolidation, or apparent lack thereof. It’s not about saving money after all; it’s about making money. If you were a School Board Member, is this something you would fail to consider?

  • ZCES can not be sold (the land is deed restricted).
  • KMS can be sold (the 26 acres of land it sits on is not deed restricted).
  • Nobody knows what KMS is worth at present. According to Ms. Lark, it has been suggested by a real estate person(s) who prefer to remain anonymous that it could be worth $9 Million.
  • KMS will be worth more when the real estate market recycles upward.

Superintendent Lark has said that KMS will not be sold on her watch.

  • We believe Ms. Lark and that this was her intention at the time that she said it, which was last  October.
  • Two months later she said "that was a rash statement by new Superintendent... I realized months ago that I should not have said it.
  • A majority vote by the School Board could cause KMS to be put up for sale at any time.
  • We think KMS should be sold, but only if it 's proceeds first solves all current school health and safety issues, and all school children remain at KMS, instead of ZCES, until it is so done.
  • The question is, would the School Board allocate proceeds here at the Lake, that came from the Lake, rather than abet the already existing superior school programs and facilities in the Valley?

A Review of Board Positions:
Among the concerns of the parents is the School Board appears to continually change the reasons why Kingsbury Middle School should close. Here’s a review of the evolving position of the School Board:

  • The basis to consider closing KMS was declining enrollment.
  • The first reason to close KMS was to Save Costs.
  • The next reason was for Curriculum and Instruction, not to save costs.
  • The reason at the meeting on Dec. 10th was convenience.

Other reasons have also emerged from the School Board from time to time. Among these, included with the parents response to them are:

  • KMS is too expensive.
    • Yet ZCES improvements will be at least $1M more than KMS
  • Wouldn’t be able to share Gifted & Talented program.
    • There is NO G&T program past 6th grade to begin with.
  • Wouldn’t be able to share ESL (English Second Language)
    • ESL was cancelled at WHS this year (despite proximity to ZCES)!
  • ZCES “is perfectly safe”
    • NV Health Dept hasn’t seen radon test results, “would never say safe”!
    • Not ADA compliant, 10 different levels, 2 accessible by stairs only
  • KMS isn’t big enough.
    • Need 14 teaching stations, have 14 teaching stations!
  • Too far down the road to change course.
    • No investments in ZCES, no disposal of KMS, no teacher contracts!

(back to contents)


I've got my story and I'm sticking to it. More about Radon at Zephyr Cove Elementary School  :
Twenty years ago there were questions about radon at Zephyr Cove Elementary School. We can not confirm the date, but think it was sometime near or about 1988.

Radon testing at Zephyr Cove Elementary School had to be done prior to 1999/2000 because there are some 12 soil suction pipes inserted under the school to reduce radon. The date of the tests leading to the insertion of these pipes, and the date that the soil suction pipes were installed is not known.

What is important about these radon reduction pipes is that the school has been tested multiple times since they were installed, and everyone of these test results show excessive radon levels above EPA health standards. In other words, theses pipes are insufficient to mitigate radon levels at the school. They simply do not work.

A radon test was done between December 27 and December 29, 1999.

  • Test done by RAData Inc.
  • School was closed at the time for Christmas holiday.
  • Test was done on 3 rooms only.
  • One room, a special ed classroom, had avg. radon gas concentration of 6.1 pCi/L. (pCi/L is “picoliter”, any amount of radon above 4 picoCuries per liter exceeds U.S. EPA health standards.)
  • This room is now a storage room.
  • It is unknown if this room has been tested since.

Click here for actual test results.

A radon test was done between December 4 and December 7, 2006.

  • Test was done by Environmental Inspection & Control Services, LLC and results by Alpha Energy Laboratories.
  • School was open and in session at this time.
  • Test was done in 16 locations throughout the school.
  • Average radon concentration levels exceeded U.S. EPA health standards in 11 of these 16 locations.

Click here for actual test results.

They could be made the school uniform. What is most important about these results:

  • These tests was done after Soderman was no longer Superintendent of Schools.
  • While Soderman was still Superintendent of Schools, he said "There is no Radon problem at this school."
  • The decision to close Kingsbury Middle School in favor of Zephyr Cove Elementary School was made by Soderman, and approved by the school board, while Soderman was still Superintendent of Schools.
  • There is no evidence Soderman ever had a radon test done at ZCES while in office.

A radon test was done between December 27, 2006 and June 29, 2007.

  • Test was done by Environmental Inspection & Control Services, LLC and results by Alpha Energy Laboratories.
  • School was open and in session throughout this time period.
  • Test was done in 15 locations throughout the school.
  • Average radon concentration levels exceeded U.S. EPA health standards in 9 of these 15 locations.

Click here for actual test results.

A radon test was done between September 7 and September 10, 2007.

  • Test was done by Environmental Inspection & Control Services, LLC and results by Alpha Energy Laboratories.
  • School was in session for 2 of these 4 days.
  • Test was done in 9 locations in three rooms.
  • Average radon concentration levels exceeded U.S. EPA health standards in 6 of these 9 locations.

Click here for actual test results. 

A Radon Test from another Test Company  :
What happened next is interesting. It also has the possibility of either confirming or eliminating the parent’s concerns about radon at Zephyr Cove Elementary School.

Sometimes it's better to bring in new blood... if you don't like the results of the old blood. The Board had the school tested by another state certififed radon test specialist:

  • Test was done by Dirk Roeper of Fallon Heating and Air Conditioning.
  • Lab results were done by The Progeny Group.
  • The method and equipment used for the testing changed.
  • The criteria to determine excessive radon levles changed.
  • Radon “progeny” was tested, rather than radon gas per se.
  • Test results were negative for excessive radon progeny.
  • We do have many of these result, but are unsure if we have all. We are happy to provide what we do have upon request.

The Parents Concern about the New Tests:

  • The new test results are not comparative to the other prior tests.
  • To test radon “progeny” accurately, the test equipment must be calibrated based on altitide and existing background radiation.
  • There are various methods to determine the existing level of background radiation.
  • Questions to the test specialist about the level of background radiation used, and how it was determined have not been returned.

It appears that the Board’s position is the new test is more accurate than those done before.

  • It is the parents understanding that this may have to do with issues of state certification.
  • If one were to check with The National Environmental Health Association, National Radon Proficiency Program however, both Fallon Heating and Air Conditioning and Environmental Inspection & Control Services, LLC have identical certification for radon testing and services provided. (Click here for NV certified radon test specialists.)

A few More Parent Concerns about Radon:
The parents have a few more concerns that appear reasonable with regard to the new radon test. One has to do with the previous tests and the 12 radon suction pipes that were inserted under the school years ago.

  • Appararently whatever tests that were done prior to that were sufficient to cause the pipes to be put there in the first place.
  • The parents believe it is inconsisent to do structural remediation to address excessive radon levels back then, and to disregard the same tests that led to that action now. (See more about radon reduction pipes here.)

(back to contents)


One does not need to be a mule to act like one.It's Safe?
Superintendent Lark declared that ZCES is safe from radon in the December 10th meeting. Her main points to make the statement were:

  • The recent test done by Fallon Heating and Air Conditioning.
  • She said "state officials tell me our school is perfectly safe."
  • The Fans and Filters being used to reduce radon levels are always on and working.

After Ms. Lark made this statement, a PowerPoint chart of Zephyr Cove radon test results compiled  on November 13, 2007 was shown on the screen.

  • The chart indicates radon results before and after radon remediation:
    • the only remediation techniques we are aware of are the fans, air filters, reduction pipes, and a sealant that was put on the school floor.
  • The chart indicates that radon levels still exceed US EPA health standards.
  • The chart also indicates that no radon issues exist at Kingsbury Middle School.

See the chart here.

It was brought to Ms. Lark's attention that no state official has declared ZCES "safe" from radon.

  • The only state official that could make such a declaration is NV Department of Health Radiation Physicist, Adrian Howe.
  • Adrian Howe has indicated "I didn't say that. I would never use the term safe. I would say the risk as been reduced, but I would never say perfectly safe."
  • When this has been brought to Ms. Lark's attention, she has responded that she is only a school official and that she is relying on what the "experts" have told her.
  • The parents wonder how a "school official" can make a positive statement about school safety on the one hand, and then disregard it's negative rebuttal on another.

Also in this section of the meeting, a ZCES school maintenance person indicated that the radon remediation fans at ZCES are frequently cut off by the teachers.

  • The teachers cut the fans off, or down, because their noise distracts the students from their studies.
  • Ms. Lark said she would issue a "directive" the next day that the fans would not be cut off for any reason.

More about radon reduction using Fans and Air Filters:
There are a few problems with using fans and filters to reduce radon:

  • This is not ever as effective as other methods, such as subslab suction, drain tile suction, sump hole suction, or block wall suction (more).
  • Fan operation is subject to electrical power being on at all times.
  • Fans can also be turned off by anybody at any time.
  • Electrical power has been known to fail here in the Sierra Mountains.
  • The fans are turned off at night, on weekends and holidays.
  • For filters to work properly, they must be clean and mainained at all times.
  • The operation of fans and filters is subject to human error.
  • An alarm system must be in place to alert fan failure at all times.

I've got my story and I'm sticking to it... regardless of the facts. A Real Estate Issue : Disclosure
A subset of the radon issue at ZCES is one of disclosure.

  • All real estate agents must disclose all known health, safety and environmental concerns to their clients.
  • If a client has elementary school age children who will attend public school here, we must disclose what we know about radon at ZCES.
  • This has the potential of causing someone to not want to purchase a home here.

 The outcome of the meeting :
After much debate and discussion at the meeting, Ms. Lark ruled against the Parents issues and concerns:

  • She said the Parents had brought up nothing new.
  • She refused to reconsider the decision to move Kingsbury Middle School.
  • She found no reason to consider the matter any further.
  • She refused to put the subject back on the school board meeting agenda.

(back to contents)



Sometimes a solution is so easy one can't see it. As mentioned above, what's most unfortunate about the impasse between the Parents and the School Board is there is an immediate solution. It still gets KMS closed, but later, and it addresses all of the health and safety concerns to the Parents involved. Notwithstanding, it also restores the credibility of the School Board.

  • Move all K-6th grade children to KMS starting with the next school  year.
  • Move the 7th and 8th grade to Whittell High School as planned.
  • Assess all health and safety issues at ZCES.
    • Address radon completely and fully.
    • Itemize all costs to get  "completely safe" certification from Nevada Department of Health.
    • Get complete budget and time-line to cure ZCES.
  • Rebuild ZCES if necessary:
    • Next to WHS would be best.
  • Immediately put KMS up for sale:
    • Make sale contingent on children remaining there until ZCES issue is solved.
    • Time-line to cure ZCES is included in the contingent sale.
    • Children remain on site rent-free as part of contingent sale.
  • Move grades K-6 back to ZCES upon completion.
  • New owner takes possession of KMS at that time.

(back to contents)


 Editorial and Summary :
We realize there is much of our opinion above, though we did affirm up front what our position is: that it is premature to close Kingsbury Middle School at this time.

It is unfortunate that the parents and School Board are so far apart on this issue. Particularly so because feelings have become so hard felt, and potentially litigous toward the School Board. It did not need to come to this. With a reasonable solution at hand, it need not go any further.

Again, with our purpose being one of facilitation, here are a few observations we have that might be of benefit to bringing the parties together.

To be fair, it was impressive to us that School Superintendent Carol Lark had the courage to face that crowd at the community meeting. It was a polite, but a passionate, disgruntled lot. Ms. Lark took the heat, and tried to answer all of the parents concerns and questions, much of which she has heard before. She was always polite and professional in so doing.

Unfortunately, her answers failed to ease the parent’s concerns. I found her answers nonpersuasive, and politely said so in the meeting. Most of the parents applauded loudly in support of that position.

Again to be fair, it appeared to us that Superintendent Lark has researched and addressed the radon problem at ZCES, certainly more so and with greater diligence, and perhaps enthusiasim, than that of her predecessor. On the surface she does not appear to take the Parents concerns lightly. Deeper though, the inflexibility of the board with their decision suggests the opposite.

We never got to be the country we are without changing our minds and making tough decisions. As much as Ms. Lark tried to appease the Parents, it seemed to us like she was supporting an agenda, one previously set by others, that is superior to all other questions and concerns. It was like someone was saying “I hear you, I care about you more than you realize, but I’ve got my story and I’m sticking to it regardless of the facts.” Ms. Lark works for the School Board. Employed by it, she is not a member of it.

On the way out, I mentioned to my wife that watching Superintendent Lark reminded me of watching Donald Rumsfeld at a press conference trying to explain a failed policy, one that everyone in the room knows isn’t working as represented. Sooner or later we would hear Rumsfeld say something like, “I know things I can’t tell you, and I’m the Secretary of Defense and you’re not.” And that would be it.

That’s what it felt like in that meeting. Though she never exactly said it, the subtext of what I heard Ms. Lark tell the crowd was I’m an experienced educator and you’re not. I’ve done my research and I know what’s best for your children, really.

So there we were in a room of more than 200 parents, all of like mind, and the Superintendent of Schools and 3 School Board members. If it was a sports contest, the score would have been 200 to 4, or something like that, and the team that got 4 wins. To say that the outcome appeared fixed would be understatement.

These are parents of elementary school children, who have questions to ask and legitimate concerns. They are not rabble rousers looking for muck to rake. They are not looking for trouble; or for an excuse to accuse anybody of anything, nor make one uncomfortable. They are just parents looking out for their children.

We think they deserve every benefit of every doubt. What the School Board must do in this situation is err fundamentally on the side of caution. They must give the parents every benefit of every doubt, and to do so, they must accept that what they have done thus far has not been sufficient. There is a solution to this problem; the School Board must be now willing to find it.


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Scott Daniels Florida Real Estate 2.0. Agents Earn 100% Commission.
Florida List For Less Realty, Inc. Broker/Owner. - Cooper City, FL


The sad truth about many communities is education takes a second seat.

Who does the graphics for your blogs?

Truly amazing and well written.

Jan 07, 2008 10:32 AM #3
Josh Ross
RE/MAX PROS - Germantown, MD
very well written!! absolutely great title as well!! It is unfortunate that education does not appear to be as important as it needs to!
Jan 07, 2008 10:41 AM #4
Gary Bolen
McCall Realty - South Lake Tahoe, CA
CRS - Lake Tahoe Real Estate Information

Scott - We do all of our own graphics. We subscribe to iClipart. Sometimes the image works as is, other times we use bits and pieces of multiple images.  All of the cartoons are vector files, imported into illustrator. They are worked on there, pieced together if need be. the captions are added there too.

then it's pasted into photoshop, where they get their dropshadow, borders, and then saved as a jpeg.

Josh - Thanks for taking the time to look at it. and appreciate your comment.

Jan 07, 2008 10:49 AM #5
Missy Caulk
Missy Caulk TEAM - Ann Arbor, MI
Savvy Realtor - Ann Arbor Real Estate
WOW, this has to be the longest post I have ever read skimmed on AR, but such an important issue in Lake Tahoe. I hope this gets you lots of subscribers.
Jan 07, 2008 11:11 AM #6
asdf zcxv
Keller Williams Realty - Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor Area Real Estate

This is really an incrediable piece of work and I commend you for being in the thick of the story.  I understand how difficult a new school decision is.  In Ann Arbor we finally agreed to a new high school after many years of back and forth and then within 6 months Pfizer pulled 2,000 people out of the town and ...their children went too.

I wish you a great solution to your difficult problem.

Jan 07, 2008 11:47 AM #7
Christopher Myers
Orlando Property Group - Orlando, FL
Greater Orlando and Central Florida Real Estate
Great post!  This took some serious effort!!!  May it bring you many, many readers.  It's a great local resource!
Jan 07, 2008 12:01 PM #8
Paul Slaybaugh
Realty Executives - Scottsdale, AZ
Scottsdale, AZ Real Estate
Holy smokes, is AR paying you guys by the word?  That is just straight crazy!
Jan 07, 2008 12:15 PM #9
Dan Forbes
Bradenton, FL
Gary and RIchard, I could not take the time to read this.  I'm sure someone will and appreciate all the work.  Good luck.
Jan 07, 2008 01:10 PM #10
Bob Stewart
ActiveRain - Seattle, WA
ActiveRain Ambassador


I must admit, it's not very often that I have taken the time to read something of this length........but with a new son in my home, this is the kind of thing I have to look forward to, so I read every word.

And let me say.......are you kidding me?? This is outrageous! The potential for litigation in this matter is very high. Especially if the school board sells the land that KMS sits on and distributes that money throughout the rest of the school district without addressing the safety issues at ZCES in a complete and final manner. The problem is, with a shutdown of KMS and with a solution on the table along the lines of what you propose, even if they eventually address the safety concerns, all those kids still inhabited the school in the meantime should they stay the course on their current proposal.

I think the failure of the school board to acknowledge that there even is a radon issue is preposterous!!

So your community has until the end of this school year to attempt to somehow change the course of what the school board has planned? What is the next step for the community if the school board continues on it's chosen path? Is there some step before a lawsuit? State legislators perhaps? Is there anything that can be done at that level?

This whole thing reeks and the source of the smell isn't the radon (since it's oderless), it's that potential 9 million dollar sale of the property KMS sits on..........

(besides all that above, this is such a thorough and well written article........can I just say......"WOW!!!!, well done!!") 

Jan 07, 2008 03:57 PM #11
Neal Bloom
eXp Realty - Weston, FL
Realtor CRS-Weston FL Real Estate
Sounds like they are hiding something or is it just a money issue. Health,safety and well being should always take priority over everything else. One day in the future they might have multiple lawsuits...I hope they have good attorneys.
Jan 07, 2008 10:41 PM #12
Gary Bolen
McCall Realty - South Lake Tahoe, CA
CRS - Lake Tahoe Real Estate Information

Missy - Thanks. We hope the Board gets behind the parents and solves the problem. What's very cool is Carol Lark read this last night. She doesn't like the cartoons, but she had the fortitude to be polite about it, and to respond in kind. Not many would.

Karen - There's a Board meeting tonight, and we'll be there. We hope good comes out of it.

Chris - Thanks for the kind words. It did take a month to put together. Some days it's all I worked on.

Paul - Thought about doing a summary, but thought a thorough discussion would help some better understand the issue. The cartoons are there to summarize the parents feelings, and make it more visual and easier to read. Just read some good stuff about you in another featured post right now.

Dan - Thanks for commenting anyway, and in future if you encounter radon issues, remember this one is here.

Bob - Wow. What great observation and comment. As you'll note in our comment back to Missy, Carol Lark emailed us last night, and it's my bet some good will come out of this.

Neal - Thanks for taking your time to look at this tome. We really hope this one does get solved. In spirit  we are very much in the litigation reduction business with this one. Pissed off parents and lawsuits will help nobody but the attorneys.

Jan 07, 2008 10:58 PM #13
Tracy Santrock
Fonville Morisey/Santrock Realty Group, Inc. - Cary, NC
Raleigh - Cary Realtor/Broker In Charge
This is one detailed post on a highly controversial topic.  Nice job in representing both sides of the issue.
Jan 08, 2008 01:31 AM #14
Jeff Link
Asheville, NC
"Your Asheville Real Estate Link"
I would like to say this post is very well done and creative. I like the cartoons. I also hope that the board will reconsider. Here in Asheville we have some of the higest levels of radon in NC. So radon is a big issue here also.
Jan 08, 2008 04:36 AM #15
Eliese Pivarnik
Colorado Group Realty, LLC - Steamboat Springs, CO
GRI, RSPS, ABR Broker, Colorado Group Realty

So the highest radon level was less than 10?

Maybe I'm a radon cynic, but unless the school is serving organic whole foods and the students are outside getting exercise and fresh air for 45-60 minutes a day, I think there are a whole lot of things more unhealthy than a 6 reading for radon.  

Most countries (with the exception of Lithuania) have way higher "safe" ratings than the US.


Jan 08, 2008 06:43 AM #16
Gary Bolen
McCall Realty - South Lake Tahoe, CA
CRS - Lake Tahoe Real Estate Information

Tracy - thanks for your nice comment.

Jeff - We like the cartoons too. Think it makes things easier to digest.

Eliese - Thanks for your comment as well. Some of the levels exceed "10." The parents up here who have elementary school children might not agree with your position here. Cheers.

Jan 08, 2008 07:03 AM #17
"The Lovely Wife" (Broker Bryantnulls Wife) The One And Only TLW.
President-Tutas Towne Realty, Inc. - Kissimmee, FL

Sir Bolen And Sir Bolen...

I have not finished reading it but I thought I should mention that for general discussions sake you really should allow anonymous comments.

What say you? :)  

P.S. This is good stuff :)


Jan 08, 2008 07:51 AM #18
asdf zcxv
Keller Williams Realty - Ann Arbor, MI
Ann Arbor Area Real Estate

I just wanted to tell you I came by to see an update.  Looking for it so anytime it comes...which I know you I am waiting! 

Side comment:  I can't believe this hasn't gotten more attention.  So important!!

Thanks for what you have written (again!!).

Bravo to whoever gives the featured star. (I don't get that stuff, but I know this is a huge topic for you and I commend you, again.)

Jan 08, 2008 08:44 AM #19
Christy Powers
Keller Williams Coastal Area Partners - Pooler, GA
Pooler, Savannah Real Estate Agent
I haven't finished reading either. There was so much. I can't believe how much you put into it. WOW. Going to finish reading now.
Jan 08, 2008 11:58 AM #20
Bob & Carolin Benjamin
Benjamin Realty LLC - Gold Canyon, AZ
East Phoenix Arizona Homes
If you do not get an award - (or extra points) for this post then there is nothing fair in this world. Great job! I think what it sounds like , besides the radon issue, is the the schools in the Carson Valley are offering considerable more classes and topics and activities. Again great job. Always enjoy your posts.  
Jan 08, 2008 05:15 PM #21
Ryan Hukill - Edmond
ShowMeOKC Real Estate Pros of KW Elite - Edmond, OK
Realtor, Team Lead
Wow!  I thought I was putting a lot of time and effort into my local posts...  I USED TO THINK THAT!  Ha!  This has to be the most detailed local post in the history of the blogosphere.  My hat is off to you my friends!
Jan 09, 2008 02:33 PM #22
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