Sally Hadden, pink-slipped principal of Lee Vining High School at Wednesday’s meeting (Photo: Kirkner)
ESUSD’s budget woes turns schools against each other
As the British schoolboys in “Lord of the Flies” realized by the end of William Golding’s harsh novel, power struggles in tumultuous situations always come down to one thing: individual welfare versus the common good.
The Eastern Sierra Unified School District serves 500 students, but many in the District believe that a tiny portion of those students are being favored, especially now that a financial crisis has struck.
Last week, light was shed on the major budget deficit the District is facing, and three schools felt the cold administrative hand coming down on them when a resolution was floated stating that these schools could face the possibility of closure. Even though the resolution was quickly amended to remove any school closure verbiage, the pin had been pulled on a grenade that has been live for years.
One of the schools on the chopping block in the original resolution was nationally ranked Eastern Sierra Academy. Students and parents of ESA, as well as some members of High Desert Academy in Benton (another of the schools that had been in the original resolution) attended special Board meeting on March 12 to express their concern about the resolution and the pink-slipping of teachers that could still ultimately lead to the closure of their schools. See The Sheet’s online story from earlier this week https://thesheetnews.com/archives/1737. ESA went so far as to lobby (successfully) for an article in the LA Times asking why the District would think about closing its school when it has some of the nation’s highest test scores http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-school-closing17-2010mar17,0,7165402.story
Since then, students and parents of other schools in the district such as Lee Vining High School and Coleville High School have risen up to defend their schools as well. On Wednesday night students and parents of these schools came out to speak their mind and it became clear that new damage had been done. Schools outside of ESA were deeply hurt by its participants’ words on March 12. On top of that, nine of the 17 pink slips that have gone to teachers in the District went to Coleville schools, which service the largest number of students in the District. Six went to Coleville High School alone, which has 70 students. [Note: An earlier version of this story stated that CHS had 197 students, but in fact the combine number of students at CHS and Coleville Elementary School is 197].
Principal of Lee Vining High School Sally Hadden also received a pink slip. She pointed out that if all the teachers and principals who had received pink slips at LVHS were laid off students would only know one teacher, two bus drivers and a custodian when they returned for the 2010/11 school year.
Rachel Hansen, who had been at the March 12 meeting and rallied students and parents of the other schools afterward, stated she was appalled by the “lack of equality from the District.” Hansen claimed she had been horrified to discover that the District was spending approximately $20,000 per student at ESA but only $12,000 per student at the other schools.
“We can’t continue to support ESA in its current form,” Hansen said, referring to the $1.8 million deficit the District is facing.
This point was reiterated by many in the room.
Will Sandy, a coach a Coleville High School felt that the District should be looking at ways to share the cuts so that the “greatest number of students would be impacted the least.”
“You need to consolidate schools to maximize the educational experience,” Sandy said.
Mono County taxpayer Dave Murray put it in a slightly different light, but his point was the same. “The Board was elected district-wide and it has a responsibility to 500 kids, not 15. Right now there are three teachers for the 15 student at ESA compared to one teacher per 25 students at Coleville High School.”
Mary Booher, a concerned District resident and parent of a Coleville High School graduate as well as a current sophomore spoke to The Sheet the morning after the meeting.
“The intent last night [Wednesday] was just to say that Coleville High School gives you a good education too. Test scores don’t help you compete in life,” she said.
Booher added that the current Board operates in a vacuum, and felt that Superintendent Don Clark should not be taking the brunt of the blame for the financial fiasco.
“He can’t so much as hire an aide without approval from the Board,” she explained. “He does supervise the Finance Director so he has some responsibility, but overall, this situation aside, ESUSD is in better shape than it has been in 20 years and that can be credited to Clark.”
According to Booher, even though many at the meeting Wednesday night talked about working together to fix the problem, high emotions may prevent that from happening.
Because this was dropped on us so suddenly, an emotional factor has been built in that didn’t need to be there, she said.
All of the schools are on the defense trying to save the teachers and institutions they love.
Back at the Wednesday night meeting Board member Randy Gilbert claimed that the district had been talking about consolidation for months.
“I’m sorry you feel you’ve been thrust into all this quickly, but we’ve been having budget workshops and talking consolidation for months,” Gilbert told the once again full gym at Lee Vining High School.
“If they’ve been doing all that for months then why were they making pink slip decisions three days before the deadline,” Booher asked The Sheet redundantly.
ESUSD’s second interim report
The actual purpose of Wednesday night’s Board meeting was for the Board members to review the District’s second interim budget report, which provided actual numbers of where the District stands at this time, and what they need to cut in order to avoid going into the red next school year. Fiscal Director Jessica Denison presented a PowerPoint walkthrough of the numbers.
According to her report, the District had spent $972,572 over what they had budgeted, while concurrently receiving $894,565 less in revenues than they had counted on. The decrease in revenue was mainly due to receiving $493,000 less than was anticipated in property tax revenues as well as being disqualified from receiving a $301,500 class size reduction grant because of missing the Jan. 31, 2009 deadline.
“This was my responsibility,” Denison, referring to the missed grant application deadline, admitted to The Sheet in a phone interview, but added that there were several factors that led to the mistake. “The grant application was not available when it usually is and we were not notified when it came in. We received our money as usual and didn’t even realize there was a problem until the State came and took the money back.”
She added that the statue that says any schools that missed the Jan. 31, 2009 deadline were now closed out of the program completely was just added this year.
“We are in touch with School Services of California and the School Legal Service to try and get a change to the statue,” Denison explained. “We are not the only school that this is affecting.”
During her Wednesday night report Denison said that administration was also discussing budgeting low tax projections going forward. Then if they receive more than anticipated it will be a bonus rather than counting on it and having it come in low.
Denison’s report assumed that all of the 17 pink slips would be enforced for 2010/11 creating a 25 percent reduction in salaries; book and supply expenditures would be reduced by 10 percent as would services and operating expenditures. The report also assumed that there would be no capital expenditures budgeted for in 2010/11 or 2011/12.
Even after these cuts the District is still looking at a $515,320 deficit next year if more action is not taken.
The Board plans to hold community budget workshops over the next few months to determine where to make the rest of the cuts.