STATEMENT OF JEFFREY K. TAYLOR, ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE AND CONGRESSIONAL AFFAIRS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 2640 AND H.R. 3421, TO PROVIDE ADEQUATE SCHOOL FACILITIES WITHIN YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

 

SEPTEMBER 19, 2002

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Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2640 and H.R. 3421.  Both of these bills would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to provide supplemental funding that is necessary to assist the State of California or local school districts in providing educational services and facilities for students attending schools located within Yosemite National Park.  In addition, S. 2640 would authorize the expenditure of park funds in support of a regional transportation system outside Yosemite National Park, and would extend the advisory commissions for both Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Manzanar National Historic Site.  On December 10, 2001, the Department presented testimony on H.R. 3421 before the subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation, and Public Lands of the House Resources Committee.  

 

The Department supports S. 2640 and H.R. 3421, as we believe that students who attend schools in Yosemite National Park should have access to the same educational services and facilities found elsewhere in the State of California.  However, we do not want this to set a precedent that parks should take over responsibility for schools or create an NPS school system.  The Department also supports the other provisions in S. 2640 regarding the expenditure of funds outside Yosemite National Park and if amended, the continuation of the two advisory commissions.

 

Schools have been located within Yosemite National Park for over 125 years to serve the needs of park employees and their children.  At present, two elementary schools are located within the park at Wawona and in Yosemite Valley. A third elementary school and a small high school are located in El Portal, the park’s administrative site located on federal property just outside the park boundary. Most students attend the larger county high school in Mariposa because of the lack of opportunity for a comprehensive program at the El Portal school.

 

The Yosemite Valley School has about 46 students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade, divided into three classes.  The amount of funding from the State of California, according to a formula based on average daily attendance, actually supports only two teachers.

 

The elementary school in El Portal has 50 students in seven grades, divided into multi-graded classrooms.  The Wawona school is like the old “one-room” schoolhouse, with 20 children in grades K-8, and one teacher.  Because the current funding formula provides for only one teacher, and the maximum teacher/student ratio has been reached, the school is unable to serve more than 20 students. Consequently, there have been instances in which parents were left with the choice of either home-schooling their children or transporting them on their own to schools elsewhere. Some parents have elected these options voluntarily because of the conditions at the Wawona school.

 

Because the schools in the park are located long distances from the administrative offices of their school districts, there has been limited access to services that are normally available to students that attend schools elsewhere. For example, access to teachers to serve students with special needs is very limited, and road and weather conditions can often further restrict teachers’ abilities to reach the park. Subjects such as band, art, music, choir, or even physical education are provided only if parents are able to find additional funding to hire an aide.  Many facilities are in need of repair or do not meet state or federal standards.

 

The quality of education that students receive in these schools suffers as a result of lack of funding and staffing. For example, teachers who teach only one grade level can focus on curriculum and standards for that grade, while teachers in the Yosemite schools are responsible for multiple grade levels. In addition to their educational duties, they must also tend to administrative duties normally performed by other employees. As a result, teachers at the Yosemite schools are unable to give the time or attention necessary to provide the quality of education that the students deserve.

 

Recruitment and retention of employees at Yosemite National Park is also adversely affected by the quality of the park schools. Many highly qualified NPS employees with school age children who might otherwise be interested in applying for jobs at Yosemite are discouraged from doing so because of the school situation. Recently, a highly qualified individual declined to accept an offer for a division chief position at the park after realizing that the schools could not meet the special needs of his child. Park employees often cite the schools as a major factor in their decision to transfer from Yosemite to other assignments.

 

Both S. 2640 and H.R. 3421 authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into cooperative agreements with the local school districts for the maintenance and minor upgrades of facilities, and the transportation of students to and from school.  The Secretary may adjust the amounts made available to local school districts if State and local funding of schools fall below current funding levels.  While we strongly believe that the responsibility for providing educational services rests with the State of California, we realize that the quality of education received by the children of park employees and others who attend the Yosemite schools is dependent on the resources of the local school districts. We believe that this legislation is a start at providing the means to improve the schools in Yosemite National Park.

 

Section 4 of  S. 2640 addresses regional transportation at Yosemite National Park.  The Department has long supported the concept of public transportation providing access to Yosemite National Park.   The 1980 General Management Plan identified the development of a regional transportation system as the long-term approach for transporting people to Yosemite National Park. In 1999 Mariposa, Merced, and Mono counties created a Joint Powers Authority as an entity to implement the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) and entered into a Cooperative Agreement with Yosemite National Park.  YARTS provided an attractive alternative for visitors and employees without having to replace the use of private cars.  NPS participated in the initial funding of this project using fee demonstration program authority.  In 2001, YARTS carried over 38,000 passengers, including park employees, during Yosemite’s prime visitor season (May through September).  Many of these visitors chose to leave their cars at their motels or other locations outside the park. By choosing YARTS to access the Yosemite Valley, over 11,000 parking places were made available during the summer. YARTS has been successful in providing a quality alternative to automobile travel.

 

Entering into its third year of operations, YARTS has had to reduce the number of runs it provides due to funding shortfalls. Funding is no longer coming from appropriated funds because the agency lacks the authority to expend funds outside the park boundary.  The authority provided through previous appropriations bills has expired. Nonetheless, YARTS has been enormously successful again this summer and the demand for the service continues to grow.  

 

The regional transportation system is an important means to solve Yosemite’s parking and congestion issues by reducing the amount of infrastructure development within the park, and thus substantially reducing the funding requirements for implementing the Yosemite Valley Plan.

This bill amends existing legislation by adding Yosemite National Park to an authorization that allows Zion National Park to enter into agreements and expend funds outside the boundaries of the park for transportation purposes.   

 

Section 5 of S. 2640 would extend the advisory commissions for Golden Gate National Recreation Area and the Manzanar National Historic Site.  The advisory commissions for these two parks provide the NPS with important input from the local community on a variety of management issues. 

 

The Manzanar National Historic Site Advisory Commission has been composed of 11 members appointed by the Secretary.  The commission advises the NPS on development issues and on the interpretation of the site.  Some of the members were internees at Manzanar during World War II.  Others are prominent citizens of the East Side of the Sierra.  The commission expired last spring at a critical time as the Manzanar National Historic Site is completing the interpretive design work for the visitor center in the former auditorium of the camp.  

 

The Golden Gate National Recreation Area commission is composed of 18 members nominated primarily by the counties in which the park is located.   The purpose of the Golden Gate NRA advisory commission is to advise on general policies and matters related to planning, administration and development for this 30-year-old park.  The commission has worked side by side the park staff for these 30 years.  Its role as a public hearings board is crucial to the numerous projects and management decisions that are being considered by this large urban park.  We would like to work with the committee on an amendment regarding the representation of recreational users on the commission.

 

 Mr. Chairman, this concludes my remarks.  I would be happy to respond to any questions that you or any members of the subcommittee may have.