Principal Yost at Thursday’s Special ESUSD Board meeting (Photo: Kirkner)
After months of budget conflict among Eastern Sierra Unified School District’s parents, teachers and staff, the word healing emerged from the lips of theses same individuals at the July 29 Special Board meeting.
Colleen Wright, Mono County Office of Education’s Deputy Superintendent started the meeting with a report on the 09/10 property tax receipts. In essence, the receipts had come in approximately $324,000 above what had been budgeted. When broken down, secure taxes were $203,000 over budget, prior year taxes were $83,000 higher, supplemental taxes were $56,000, and unsecured taxes were $18,000 under what had been budgeted.
“The $203,000 is the most reliable amount to work with,” Wright explained.
ESUSD Superintendent Don Clark then asked Wright what her recommendation would be for the money.
“Put it in contingency and don’t spend a penny of it,” Wright said. “Don’t add employees you may not be able to maintain.”
Wright was referring to later items on the agenda that looked to reinstate several ESUSD positions that had been pink slipped in May with the new-found money.
Seemingly taking her recommendation to heart, Clark requested that the Board table rescinding a music teacher elimination, a groundskeeper position, and a school bus replacement.
The Board did, however, partially restore a mechanic position at the cost of $27,557, add an Executive Secretary position, and a Special Projects Coordinator position. In addition the Board approved the elimination of the Human Resources Administrator position because it would be replaced by the Executive Secretary and Special Projects positions.
Board member Doug Northington led the charge on reinstating the mechanic position. “I’m in favor because of the safety for the kids on the buses,” he said, referring to the fear that if the buses are not regularly checked, something could malfunction and cause a crash.
While the vote on the mechanic was unanimous, the new staffing proposal of the Executive Secretary and Special Projects Coordinator was not. Northington and fellow Board member Gabe Segura voted against the staffing proposal because they felt it was just an additional cost (getting rid of the HR Administrator and adding the two new positions left the District with a net gain of $8,738).
Northington was concerned that the pay range for the Executive Secretary being presented to them was not based on the same principles as all the other salary ranges in the District, which is 85 percent of the Tahoe/Truckee pay scale.
“The Executive Secretary seems to be the same as the Administrative Assistant position that we got rid of one year ago,” Northington said. “Why not go back to what we had in the Administrative Assistant, it’s the same job, just semantics.” Plus, it used the 85 percent of Tahoe/Truckee pay scale, which would mean that the position would have a range of $48,350-$60,253, rather than automatically starting at $51,000.
Ultimately the Board did approve the two positions but with the amendment that the Executive Secretary’s pay scale would be 85 percent of Tahoe/Truckee. This amendment brought the dollar increase to the District down to $4,000, which means that, with the partial restoration of the mechanic position, the District spent $31,557 of the additional property tax revenues on Thursday night.
Roger Yost, former principal of the now defunct Eastern Sierra Academy, will be taking the reins of the newly converged ESA and Lee Vining High School when the school year begins in a few weeks. Yost approached the Board on Thursday with a school plan for their approval. The plan outlines running the newly converged high school similarly to the way ESA had been run.
Initially, many parents were outraged over the plan because they felt it was not what they had spent many hours working on with Yost and other staff members. Several e-mails that flew around the day prior to the special meeting spoke of how Superintendent Clark had radically changed the plan and rejected its heart, which merged the best aspects of Lee Vining High School and ESA together.
At the meeting Yost explained that he had simply put the community’s plan into a more professional document for the Board’s approval. He candidly admitted that he had reviewed the document with the Superintendent and implemented the changes Clark had requested.
“I took the community’s thoughts and concepts and put them into this plan,” Yost said. “I know there is criticism in the way that I have done this.”
However, once the community members in the room heard from Yost, they understood what he had done and seemed to become more accepting of the plan.
“The document does look totally different than the one everyone worked on, but really it’s just cleaned up for voting purposes,” said Board member Segura, who had also been upset by the document before Yost spoke.
As Board members hemmed and hawed over the plan because parts of it were not traditional, Yost explained that the community wanted to start moving in the same direction and the Board needed to support it.
“The District needs to heal and work together,” Yost said. “Let’s change the culture if we are going to change it. This is what we want to do and how we want to accomplish it.”
“But you don’t know the culture, you haven’t been there yet,” said Board member Randy Gilbert who was concerned that Yost would fail in trying to take what he had succeeded with at the small ESA school to the larger, combined Lee Vining High School.
He and Board President Margie Beaver were afraid that if Yost set up the classrooms in untraditional ways or allowed kids to participate in interim programs and CAVE (cultural, academic and vocational experience) trips, too much core class time would be lost.
“The changes in the plan are little cultural changes, not a revolution,” said former ESA teacher Jamie Godoy who has seen Yost’s methods work. “There will still be class with teaching and homework.”
It was pointed out that students at Lee Vining High School are just as smart as the kids who were going to ESA, they just had not had the bar raised. By expecting more from the kids and trying different methods of getting through to them, they will more than likely take more pride in their school and succeed. The community in attendance at the meeting was very much in favor of accepting Yost’s plan and giving all students the chance to excel as ESA students have been for years.
“You can’t succeed or fail if you don’t try,” Northington said, and with that the Board approved the plan 3-2 with Beaver and Gilbert dissenting.