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Revitalizing East Valley

A group called Revitalize East Valley has formed, with members saying they want to restore vibrancy to the region’s school district.

On the heels of the East Valley School District’s budget shortfall this past spring followed by teacher layoffs, the group started gathering after attending EVSD board meetings. REV now has about 50 members, including parents and school employees.

“Our goal is what can we do to make the East Valley School District a magnet that will draw families here because people want their children in East Valley schools,” said Tom Feldhausen, an REV leader who is retired after 30 years in education.

Feldhausen, who more recently was a private-school principal, spent 12 years, from 1984 to 1996, as an EVSD assistant superintendent.

Concerns over administrative decisions in recent years led to people asking what they could do, said Feldhausen.

“We felt there was a need to start because of, most notably, the budget situation that the district was going through,” he said. “A lot of people were showing up at board meetings and started talking after the meetings, saying what can we do? People felt their voice wasn’t always being heard. We felt a lot of decisions were being made at the administrative and board level that were not always in the best interest of schoolchildren.”

Feldhausen said concerns included past decisions to remove or limit programs and recent actions – reductions in the alternative Connections program, a large expenditure toward elementary math textbooks, and cutting high school security personnel.

Topping it all were last spring’s budget problems, he added.

“The overspending of the district budget led to the layoff of a lot of good teachers,” he said. “We felt there were some poor administrative hires over recent years. They made a math text book purchase of half a million for first through fifth grade. They didn’t pilot the program beforehand. When I was there before with the district, a building would always pilot the program before making a major adoption.”

June Sine, EVSD board president, said teachers did test the math program.

“It was piloted with some teachers,” Sine said. “Those books were actually used in classrooms by teachers and supported by those teachers. There was a process and a committee.”

Regarding the REV group, Sine said the board welcomes district patrons coming forward.

“As a school district, we are looking forward to continuing the lines of communication with all of our patrons,” Sine said. “If people have concerns, we welcome them coming forward with those concerns or questions so we can dispel any rumors.”

Certain programs are growing or being promoted, Sine added, in the midst of tightened spending.

“We just had an all-day retreat, and we addressed some of the concerns our patrons have expressed,” she said. “We’re going to work on promoting the district more and we have some goals that are going to be addressed and formalized.

“We had to tighten the belt, and we’re going to be spending less this year, and that should put us in a better financial position in a year or two,” Sine said.

Sine also said the board will go through a search process early next year with a plan to hire a superintendent around July 2008. A proposed district budget is scheduled for the Aug. 21 board meeting.

Since REV began meeting formally and attending board meetings, Feldhausen said he already has seen communication opening up.

“I think the board has started to listen. Deb Howard, the new interim superintendent, is open to dialogue and trying to address concerns,” he said. “There have been a couple of new elementary principals who have been hired, and staff at the schools had a lot of direct input into the principal search. Some of the people who were laid off have been rehired.”

Last May, about 20 EVSD teachers and two administrators received reduction-in-force notification, but as of this week, only four of those people have not been rehired, said district spokesperson Judi Christianson, and new openings have recently emerged.

Feldhausen said REV will continue monitoring administrative and board actions, such as how leaders handle EVSD’s decline in enrollment. The EVSD student population this past spring was at about 4,040, a decline of 700 students over seven years.

“They’re blaming the loss of enrollment on Kaiser, and that was years ago,” Feldhausen said. “With the loss of enrollment you have to take a look at what you’re offering, and what you’re no longer offering kids. Several of our parents have mentioned neighbors moving because this program was cut or they’re unhappy. If you’re not meeting the needs of kids, they are going to go to other districts.”

The group hopes to work with the district to restore some programs.

“We’re saying let’s bring some of these programs back and find out why you’re losing students,” he said. “We’ll be attending board meetings and we want to hold the board and administrators accountable for their decisions.”