After countless hours of testimony and many more hours of community involvement over the past few months to try and keep budget cuts at Eastern Sierra Unified School District away from the classroom, the ESUSD Board voted 3-2 to approve Resolution 10-10 at their May 4 meeting, which will dismiss 15 teaching positions throughout the District. This comes on top of 21 classified positions that have already been let go.
Board member Doug Northington told The Sheet that this is the largest teacher layoff the Board had ever followed through with. Several years ago more pink slips were issued but all of them were rescinded. Northington and fellow Board member Tad Roberts were the two “No” votes on the resolution.
Community members lobbied the Board for several hours before the final vote was taken. They encouraged the Board to give them another week to work through alternatives as the legal deadline to start the notification process for those being laid off is not until May 11.
Board President Margie Beaver explained that there was a bumping process that could take several weeks, which was why the topic was on the agenda that evening.
“Some of the positions we are looking at are three people deep in the bumping process,” Beaver explained. The bumping process deals with seniority. The first person on the list is given the choice to bump someone out of their job position if they are ranked lower in seniority, thereby laying off the person below them rather than being laid off themselves. Each person has five days to think about what they want to do, Beaver explained. The layoff notification and decision process must be completed by May 15.
The community continued to press for another week of time especially when Human Resources Director Mollie Nugent failed to produce the comparables between the staff’s suggested budget and the community’s suggested budget, which would have only let seven teachers go instead of 15.
Nugent stated that the community’s budget scenario titled the “Belt-Tightening” plan was not valid because the community did not have all the budget details and did not realize that some things actually cost more than they had penciled in. However without the numbers and report in front of her to show the public, distrust and finger pointing once again became the topic of conversation.
Nugent attempted to make up for not having the numbers at the meeting by sending out an e-mail the following day. In it she explained that the two biggest discrepancies were salaries and benefits. “Based upon the staffing difference, management reviewed the certificated salary category, looking for funds added, above the district’s budgeted level, to fund the additional eight teaching positions assumed in the Belt-Tightening staffing plan. We found that $167,000 was added. Knowing that average teacher salaries are roughly $50,000, we find that the certificated salary category is approximately $233,000 under-budgeted in the Belt-Tightening plan.”
Benefits for certificated staff came in $263,000 below District level. “This creates a $423,000 budget shortfall in the benefits category,” Nugent said.
Mono County Office of Education’s Assistant Superintendent Stacey Adler and Deputy Superintendent Colleen Wright were also present at the May 4 meeting to further discuss MCOE’s proposal to combine administrative efforts such as payroll with ESUSD, therefore saving the District approximately $300,000 because MCOE would provide these services for free for the 2010/11 school year.
The Board was skeptical of the offer, fearing that by consolidating and therefore having to get rid of some of the ESUSD-specific staff, the District would not receive the same level of attention and staff/Board interaction that they receive now. Board member Randy Gilbert feared that if the arrangement did not work out after the 2010/11 school year, then the District would just have to bring staff back anyway. Wright assured the Board that if they were willing to come to the table to discuss the offer, all of the details would be discussed in depth. At this time the proposal is very broad, she added. The Board did direct staff to discuss the proposal further with MCOE.
After the vote was taken tears erupted and hugs were given among the public. Geoff McQuilkin, who was intimately involved with the community budget plan in Lee Vining told The Sheet that while the outcome was not what he had hoped for, the experience had not been in vain.
It got us all communicating, he explained. “I’ve spoken with people in Bridgeport, Coleville and Benton more recently than I have in years.”
Lee Vining resident Bartshe Miller summed up the event when he spoke to the Board early in the evening before the vote was taken. “Our communities are changed,” he said, “for better or for worse, but forever.”