rejects school calendar change
by Bret Bradigan
After 90 minutes and 22 speakers, the Ojai Unified School District
board of trustees voted 3-2 Tuesday to reject proposed changes
to the school calendar, before receiving dire forecasts about
the district's finances and enrollment.
The move sends the issue back to the negotiating team of teachers
and administrators to come up with another calendar for the district's
4,000 students. It does not, as Craig Walker, president of the
Ojai Federation of Teachers, noted, mean there won't be a modified
calendar for next school year.
Superintendent Van Riley said he was also directed to plan for
a special board-appointed advisory group of parents, to open
up more commun-ication between the board and community, to, as
Riley said, "Get a clear picture of what the community and
parents want." The plan is to have this group up and running
by the beginning of the next school year.
Board members Rikki Horne and Vince France voted for the modified
calendar, while Kathi Smith, Tim Peddicord and Bob Unruhe voted
to defeat the motion. Unruhe's substitute motion to send the
issue back to a committee "to resolve this issue" died
for lack of a second.
It was a victory for parents who mobilized in the past month
since the modified calendar was proposed in a mailing sent home
with students. The vote took place after the long line of parents
and teachers - most of whom opposed the change - addressed the
board. The issues they raised, Riley said, "were all discussed
by the board."
Reasons for opposition focused on day-care difficulties, expense
to the district, and the perception that the district didn't
seek a broad consensus of parents before making the proposal.
As Micki Hughart, a six-year teaching veteran of the district,
said, "I know the parents support the teachers. They just
feel they weren't consulted."
Teachers who spoke favored the schedule change, some citing how
much students forget over the long summer vacation. Linda McMichael,
a fifth grade San Antonio Elementary School teacher with 20 years
of experience, said, "I have seen the benefits to kids on
a year-round schedule" while in Australia, with its 220-day
school year, compared to the 180 days typical of American schools.
"The first four weeks of school, there's lots of work getting
kids caught up," she said. "It's like a foreign language.
If they don't use it all the time, they forget it." Heidi
Whitman also made that point: "Gifted students could not
even show up for school until December."
Walker, who was part of the team which negotiated the modified
schedule with district administrators, said it was a three-year
process coming to this point. "We're puzzled where there
would be questions about it at this point. Like it or not, this
is the best arrangement we could come to," he said.
As far as parent's input, "The expectation was that the
board would represent the parents," Walker said.
Dennis Daneau, a special education teacher at Nordhoff High School,
and a member of the negotiating team, felt that many parents
favored the calendar change, or at least didn't oppose it. "A
great many parents are not here tonight," he said. "And
there's a reason for that."
Most parents present, however, felt they weren't represented.
Nicole Botti turned in 219 petition signatures from parents opposed
to the modified calendar. "We still don't understand the
real reason for the change," she said.
John Gottesman cited an article in the April, 2000 issue of Coastal
Review, in which Van Riley, then-superintendent of the Carpinteria
School District, sought parent's input about the school calendar.
"Why couldn't we get the same consideration?" he asked.
Jayden Morrison, with Ojai's Parks and Recreation Department,
said his youth programs are directly affected by calendar changes.
He also said, "A lot of kids go to Mexico for the summer.
That needs to be looked at."
Other concerns emerged about child care. Lana Starbard, director
of Noah's Ark Preschool, said that no one contacted her about
the impacts the schedule changes would have on day care at the
school, while Nancy Sanders, a working parent, said day care
was an expensive proposition, especially with the big blocks
of mid-year time off. "President's week? I don't get President's
Day off," she said.
Shannon Gilman, a local real estate agent, said that having two
different schedules for elementary and high school created problems
that weren't addressed. "I know people move here because
we don't have separate schedules," she said.
Following the public's comments, board members had their say
"This has become a teachers versus parents issue, and that's
not good," said Bob Unruhe, while Rikki Horne said, "The
problem is largely a lack of input."
Vince France said he's heard from plenty of angry people. Still,
"I don't see this as a divisive issue," he said. "It's
just a difference of opinion."
Tim Peddicord had also received an earful during the past two
weeks. "This has put me in a deep quandary. No matter what
we do, people will be unhappy."
Following the narrow vote, Superintendent Van Riley gave an update
on the district's enrollment and finances.
Most of the news was bleak. Enrollment is down. Expenses are
up. And something needs to be done.
For instance, total impacts on the district, from everything
from loss of energy rebates to health insurance premiums to the
loss of enrollment revenue, are expected to cost the district
$1.47 million for the 2002-03 school year, and that's without
knowing what education cuts the state may make in its own budget
due in the summer.
Loss of enrollment - 130 fewer students districtwide this year
than last year, with a projected loss of 189 for next year and
1,000 over the next decade - will result in the loss of 11.4
fulltime teaching positions for the district next fall, Riley
This will require some hard choices, he said, to cut expenses.
"We have to look at everything that's optional, and make
priorities," he said.
Some efforts to boost enrollment were discussed. For instance,
Ventura School District's policy to deny students the ability
to transfer to Ojai schools will be vigorously fought. Riley
said that of the 100 transfer students last year - mostly Oak
View residents - all were rejected by Ventura, but of those 50
who appealed the decision to the county, all were allowed to
transfer in to Ojai schools.
Other goals include boosting average daily attendance from 95
percent to 98 percent, creating programs that boost student demand,
developing more flexible transfer policies, seeking more grant
money, and considering boundary changes through annexation, which,
Riley acknowledged, would be controversial.
Containing benefits costs would be a priority as well. Riley
stated the goal of reducing increases to zero. Next year alone,
increases will cost the district $520,000. Benefit packages cost
the district $7,400 for each employee, he said.
The goal of any cuts, Riley said, are to keep reductions as far
away as possible from the classroom. He said he would provide
periodic updates on the progress to the board.
Horne said, "Problems are never solved by trying to hide
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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