The Eastern Sierra Unified School District struggled with its budget earlier this year and is now dealing with several items that were either put on the backburner during the chaos or floated to the surface of discussion because of it.
Wednesday night the Board held a special meeting where it reviewed and approved Superintendent Don Clark’s employee contract, plus gathered public comment on the proposed attendance boundaries and bus routes for the District.
“We’ve been trying to work on the contract for four months but all these other things [budget issues] got in the way,” said Board member Ann Aylesworth.
The addendum to Clark’s contract marked the sixth set of changes in approximately two years, which according to Clark is not unusual. “I don’t belong to a union so the Board negotiates with me every year, it’s required by my contract that they do so and most districts to the same,” he said in a phone interview with The Sheet on Wednesday. The original contract with Clark was entered into “on or about June 25, 2008,” according to the addendum from the meeting.
In Addendum VI, which was approved 3-2 by the Board, according to Executive Secretary Valerie Gale, Clark’s paid vacation days were reduced from 35 per year to 31. His full and regular days of service to the District, previously based at 225 were lowered to 215, and his base salary was reduced by $5,202.90 for the 2010-2011 fiscal year.
According to the Addendum the first two items were expected to settle a dispute between Clark and the Board concerning section 3.4 of the Original Agreement under which Clark was “paid certain sums for unused accrued vacation.”
“I don’t think dispute is the correct word, it was more of a contention from one Board member that the vacation days were not correct,” Clark said. “The Board member felt I was receiving too much.”
The concessions made in the contract are comparable to concessions that other district employees have been asked to undertake, according to Aylesworth. Clark will also take on additional responsibilities, which include acting as the Transportation Director, the Principal of Bridgeport Elementary School, and the 7th and 8th grade football coach.
Lastly, the Addendum modified the terms of the Promissory Note given to Clark by the District on Nov. 12, 2008 when the District loaned him $80,000 to purchase a home. The changes on the agenda increased the repayment period for the housing loan from 12 months to 60 months after the cessation of Clark’s employment to the District before age 57.
“Like many people he bought at the wrong time,” Aylesworth said.
According to the new Promissory Note, due to today’s real estate market, Clark would be unable to sell his home within 12 months at a price high enough to repay the loan and any accrued interest. If Clark leaves the District before age 57, interest begins to accrue on the loan.
Clark, 49, claimed he was not planning on leaving the District but that the change was a precautionary measure.
“States average less than 18 months for superintendents in any school,” he said. “If I was unable to sell the home in one year I would be charged interest.”
According to Gale, Board members Doug Northington and Gabe Segura voted against approving Clark’s contract as written. They wanted to seek their own legal counsel regarding the contract, but since a negotiator had been appointed further legal discussion was not an option. The other Board members felt the contract negotiations had been going on for several months and needed to be decided upon, Gale said.
In regard to the attendance boundaries, the Board has been holding several special meetings to discuss whether or not to implement attendance boundaries in the District. Since the closure of the Eastern Sierra Academy in Bridgeport, students living in that area now either go north to Coleville High School or south to Lee Vining High School, a long commute either way, Aylesworth said.
“We may or may not have attendance boundaries but the Board wants something formal either way,” Clark said. “We did promise the Eastern Sierra Academy kids that they could go to Lee Vining High School, so it’s the classes after that we are dealing with, which means we have some time [to make a decision].”
Right now the Board is just trying to have discussions with the community to see where it stands on the idea of attendance boundaries.
“It’s an informational item,” Aylesworth said. “People are concerned about the amount of time the kids are on the road. It is also going to cost more in bussing without Eastern Sierra Academy. So far we’ve had a lot of support.”
Both Clark and Aylesworth agreed that the closure of ESA had spurred conversation and public outreach on this topic.
The next special meeting for public input on the attendance boundaries and bus routes will be held on Oct. 6 at Lee Vining High School at 6 p.m.