Community members in the Eastern Sierra Unified School District were shocked to find that their hard work over the past few months seems to have been in vain. Since early March, the people of Benton, Bridgeport, Coleville and Lee Vining have been working within their towns to try and come up with budget alternatives that would keep the District from laying off 17 teaching positions throughout their schools.
Last Wednesday a Board meeting was held and the communities were able to present their budget plans and ideas. Staff was also able to present its plan. Many community members felt the meeting went well, but, when the agenda was sent out late Friday for another special meeting on May 4 at 6 p.m. at the Bridgeport District Office, it looked as though none of the communities’ suggestion had been taken into account. The agenda puts Resolution 10-10 before the Board, which calls for dismissal and reduction in service level of certain certificated employees. The same solution that had been put before the Board mid-March before the communities had put in hours of their time to come up with other ideas.
The agenda has some community members wondering if a statement that Superintendent Don Clark allegedly made several weeks ago during a meeting with the Mono County Office of Education could in fact be true. According to Superintendent of Schools, Catherine Hiatt, Clark stated during a meeting to discuss the budget crisis, that none of the communities’ ideas would gain traction. When questioned whether or not he made that statement, Clark vehemently denied it.
“We have taken into account the communities’ ideas,” Clark told The Sheet today. “There are a lot of commonalities between the staff’s plan and the communities’ plans and we have reviewed it all line by line.” He added that staff makes up 85 percent of the District’s budget. “We are looking at other areas but we won’t get there [to a balanced budget] without staff reductions. That’s the reality we’re dealing with.”
Clark explained that there are a few reasons the Board needs to take action on the certificated layoffs on May 4, even though the legal deadline for notification is still just under two weeks away on May 15. It takes time to contact all those affected, and with the reduction in staff, those that remain could be shuffled into new areas and responsibilities, he said.
“To build a real budget by our June 1 deadline we need to know where people are going to be,” Clark said. He added that at this time the Board is not interested in pursuing an offer from the Mono County Office of Education to consolidate staffing positions that, according to a statement from Hiatt, would save the District “several hundred thousand dollars.”
One the positions on the original certificated list, P.E., has been rescinded due to State regulations, and a second, Spanish, will be looked at on May 4, which would bring the total down to 15 positions cut if the Board approved Resolution 10-10.
Also on the agenda at the May 4 meeting is a discussion of updated budget information from the staff and communities, but this item is under a section titled “no action.”
On top of certificated staff layoffs on the horizon, the Board also recently approved 21 position reductions among classified staff, which do not require the same notice as certificated staff.