It was standing room only at the Central Valley School District’s board meeting Monday as district staff and teachers crowded in to hear what would happen to their jobs and programs.
The district will avoid laying off teachers by not replacing 14 teachers who have resigned or retired. Twenty-nine teachers who are on one-year contracts will not have their contracts renewed. They account for 15.6 full-time equivalent positions. The one-year contracts are typically given to teachers hired to fill in for someone on leave.
Classified employees will see their hours cut at the very least and some may lose their jobs, said Superintendent Ben Small. Six bus routes and all after-school activity buses will be eliminated, cutting down on the number of bus drivers needed. Media assistant hours are being cut by 25 percent and kindergarten para-educators will have their hours reduced by 21 percent.
The cut to media assistant hours was a last-minute addition to the budget cuts totaling $3.4 million and brought several librarians to the microphone to express their concern.
“Our libraries are used more than ever,” said Ann Warner, a librarian at Bowdish Middle School. “Our staffing ratio has already taken a hit.”
After cuts to librarian hours last year, Warner said she has been using parent volunteers and student assistants to try and fill the gap. “We’re a skeleton crew,” she said. “Please save the libraries.”
The other cut to receive several objections was the elimination of all kindergarten para-educators. Small said the plan is to use Title I and Learning Assistance Program money to restore all but 21 percent of the hours. The para-educators are currently funded by I-728 dollars, which are being cut by nearly 80 percent, he said. Keeping all the para-educators would require the district to use basic education dollars and cut something else. “If we don’t cut it, the solution we have in front of you doesn’t work,” he said. “We can’t invent funds to do it.”
Several staff members from the Kindergarten Center spoke against the cuts. Head custodian Doug Wheeler called the cuts a “disservice to students, staff and the district.”
“This is the base on which all our other programs are built,” he said.
Parent volunteer Susan Hershberger recited a long list of responsibilities the para-educators perform. “This is the short list,” she said. “They are positively impacting the students. After all, everything we need to learn, we learn in kindergarten.”
“This is painful,” said board member Debbie Long. “The staff is what made that program.”
Other cuts approved Monday include four positions in the administrative office, a collaboration day, a teacher mentor, the fifth-grade outdoor environmental education program and school building budgets. The extra-, co-curricular budget will be cut by 5 percent and a study team will determine what the cuts will look like, Small said. Their recommendations are expected to be before the board by the end of June.
While the board voted to approve the cuts, nothing is written in stone, Small said. “Just because something’s on here it doesn’t mean we’ll do it if it doesn’t make sense,” he said. District staff will also continue to look for other ways to save money.
While board members peppered Small with questions about the cuts and how they would take effect, they seemed to be resigned to the need to approve them. “This is not a comfortable or happy place we find ourselves in,” said board president Cindy McMullen.
Long made a motion that the cuts to extracurricular activities and para-educators be removed from the plan. “I’m really struggling,” she said.
Her motion, however, died after no one seconded it. “I understand how you feel,” said board member Anne Long. “What I struggle with is what else do you put in that spot? What else can we do?”
Long said she’s hopeful that some additional savings can be found and some cuts restored. “That’s what I’m praying for. I have difficulties with all of it.”
Small also outlined additional cuts that might be made if the district has to trim more money from the budget, which must be approved in August. The suggestions include eliminating a summer work crew, reducing custodial time in each building and cutting extra- and co-curricular activities by an additional 2.5 percent.
McMullen praised the staff and teachers in the audience. “We know that what we have just done will have impacts in every classroom in the district,” she said. “We know we’ve made your jobs harder. We apologize for that. We have great faith in you.”
In other business, the board voted to terminate Greenacres Middle School custodian Rick Keays. An executive session was held before the regular board meeting Monday to “receive and evaluate complaints or charges brought against a public employee.”
At the beginning of the meeting McMullen said the board would be adding a “recommendation from administration” to the consent agenda, which includes several routine items that are passed without discussion. The vote on the recommendation to terminate employment took place without any public knowledge of what was being voted on.
Jay Rowell, executive director of human resources and operations, said Keays has been on leave for two months while an investigation was conducted. He refused to give details about the complaint. “There was an allegation,” he said.
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