Posting on the Lee Vining marquee last week (Photo: Kirkner)
“Information is a source of learning. But unless it is organized, processed, and available to the right people in a format for decision making, it is a burden, not a benefit.” – William Pollard
“The hallmark of all of this is people asking for more information,” Paul McFarland, Lee Vining resident pointed out on Wednesday night. He was referring to what seems to be one of the few positive results of the financial crisis facing the Eastern Sierra Unified School District (ESUSD).
The ESUSD Board has begun holding community budget workshops just as the areas within the District requested when the financial crisis began to unfold. Monday night a workshop was held in Benton and on Wednesday night another was held in Lee Vining. Next week a workshop will be held at the Bridgeport Elementary School on March 30 at 6 p.m. and another will be held at Coleville High School on March 31 at 6 p.m.
The purpose of these workshops is brainstorming. At the Wednesday night meeting in Lee Vining, a group of approximately 30 community members were walked through a shortened version of ESUSD’s second interim report. They were able to ask detailed questions, which they were not allowed to do when the report was presented at the regular Board meeting on March 17. Many in the group really focused on the missed grant deadline for class size reduction, which will end up costing the District $600,000 over four years while it is locked out of the program. Fiscal Director Jessica Denison claimed that her department was responsible for this missed deadline, but also pointed fingers at the Mono County Office of Education and the State as accomplices in the mistake.
“The application is usually out for the September Board meeting, but last year it was late,” Denison said. She claimed she called the Mono County Office of Education once to see where the application was and was told that it was not out yet and that she would be notified when it was ready. She never received that notification and she never followed up to see what had happened.
Also while presenting the second interim report, Denison made a statement that many were waiting to hear. “We are looking at a 25 percent reduction in salaries across the board, from the top down.”
Superintendent Don Clark and the two Board members who were present, Tad Roberts and Margie Beaver agreed. Denison explained that the reason only certificated positions (teachers) were in the budget reductions in her report and on the District’s website was because they were the positions with the March 15 pink slip deadline. Classified positions, or non-teaching positions, such as administration, do not have to be notified by March 15.
Following the presentation the group was asked to write down their ideas of how to trim the budget on large sheets of paper.
“The goal is to try and gather ideas that we may not have thought of,” said Superintendent Don Clark. “We want to get everything on the table.”
Community members were hesitant at first with this idea.
The group felt they needed more information in the form of budget breakdowns by schools. The interim report only presented district-wide numbers.
“If I have a choice between suggesting cutting something that is going to save us $200,000 and something that will only save us $20, then I want to be able to suggest the thing that is going to save us more,” said workshop attendee Stacey Simon.
Clark explained that the point was just to get ideas out there and then to research feasibility later. “When we were in Benton someone suggested something that I had not even thought of. That is what I am hoping we’ll get out this meeting tonight.”
Still, the group requested to see the numbers broken down on a site by site basis so that they could see how much is spent at each school.
One member of the group pointed out, however, that doing that may divide the schools even more because students, parents and teachers may use the numbers to compare against one another and ask why one school may have a program and funding that they do not.
“We’re already at the point of school versus school, so we need to get all the information we can and look at site by site budgets,” McFarland said. Denison agreed to send out those numbers to the group and an e-mail list was composed. A detailed line item budget report was sent out Thursday. The school by school breakdowns had to be decoded and at press time the community had begun to dive in and digest the numbers in the 55-page document.
The Wednesday night group eventually did jot their ideas down on the large sheets of paper. Once that exercise was finished Clark asked the group to choose two representatives that would sit on a district-wide budget committee with representatives from the other areas in the district.
“We are trying to keep it to two representatives per area so that it is equal,” explained Board President Beaver.
The committee will begin meeting after the District’s spring break, which takes place the first week of April. The committee will be tasked with researching the ideas the community has thrown on the table to see which ones really make sense. Denison and staff will put dollar amounts to the ideas that have been put on the table in order to allow the committee to have more information while deliberating. The committee will then be expected to make a presentation of recommendations to the Board at the beginning of May so that the Board can make any necessary personnel changes by the May 15 deadline.
Many in the room were concerned that by only allowing two people from their area to sit on the committee, communication to the rest of the community would be lost. Many were already bothered that the community workshops had not been better publicized. With approximately seven people volunteering for the two spots, Clark suggested that the group of seven get together and pick the two people that would actually sit at the table, but then the remaining five could still attend the meetings and help keep the rest of the community updated. The meetings will be open to the public, so anyone in the community can attend and hear what’s going on for themselves as well.
Once the community workshops are held in Bridgeport and Coleville, dates will be set for the committee to begin meeting.
Note: In last week’s ESUSD story, “The flies have it,” it was reported that Coleville High School has 197 students. In fact, there are 197 students at Coleville High and Coleville Elementary School, combined.