OUSD budget-cutting plans
by Bret Bradigan
A standing-room-only crowd filled Ojai Unified School District's
board meeting Tuesday night to make sure that the pain of slashing
the district's budget will be shared equally.
Since February, the district superintendent, Dr. Van Riley, along
with members of the classified and certified staff, have been
seeking to cut $1,867,000 from the district's $25 million budget
to offset projected losses from declining enrollment and state
revenues. On Tuesday, Riley reported on the progress.
So far, they have closed the gap to within $148,000 - with $1,719,000
in proposed cuts.
Those cuts have not come without concern.
Representatives from the classified employees' union, the California
State Employees Association, spoke about their sense that they
were carrying a disproportionate share of the costs, and warned
that cuts to the district's bus drivers, mechanics, janitors,
food service staff, clerks and secretaries could have dire impacts
on safety, security and efficiency.
"We cannot help but feel that the employee groups are not
shouldering the burden equally,"
said union representative Mark Ditchfield. He said that proposed
cuts to administration didn't appear to be as steep, and needed
to be looked at again. "This is the message I am obliged
Dorothy Johnson, a secretary at Chaparral School and a district
employee since 1979, warned that these cuts to classified staff
would be felt in the classroom. She also said that in her years
at the district, " there have been some empires built,"
and that all the new programs and personnel that have accumulated
need a hard look.
To rousing cheers, she concluded, "If you want to improve
staff morale, start at the top, not at the bottom."
In response to a question from board member Rikki Horne, Ditchfield
said that the most union members would feel the process was fair
if the cuts "were made reasonably equal, I believe that
a large portion of us would be satisfied."
Kathi Smith, board president, addressing safety concerns about
the lack of substitute bus drivers expressed by Dorothy Williams,
asked to have several department heads at the next meeting on
May 21 to address to impact of the budget cuts on their departments.
Board member Bob Unruhe said that in a district of 3,900 students,
it seemed disproportionate to have 19 administrators averaging
$97,000 in annual salary. "When you've got that many people
making that kind of money, you've got to take a hard look at
it," he said.
Riley said that the district's budget proposal will be up for
the board's vote in June, and that there will time to make necessary
adjustments at the board's direction.
He said certain items were off-limits as the district went into
the process of identifying where to cut. "We wanted to keep
the cuts as far away as possible from the classroom," Riley
said as he outlined the proposal for the board.
Those items included: no increase in classroom size; no reduction
in instruction and equipment accounts; no reduction in teacher
development funds; keeping a minimum of 3 percent in reserve;
and fully-funded health benefits. The plan also includes a hands-off
policy on the one-time relief funds, totaling 769,000 this year,
from the state.
Enrollment has declined steadily in the district - 130 students
lost this year, 189 expected to be lost next year, and 1,000
students for the decade. Due to these steep declines, the district
will lose 11 teaching positions, however, including nine this
year; six through attrition, and three who were informed in March
that their positions will be closed next fall. An administrator
position will also be lost, with a shifting and consolidation
of duties between three principals.
In other district news, Carole Paddock, peer mediation adviser,
and her students gave an update on the program, in which students
trained in conflict resolution act to reduce school tension and
violence. The mediation, she said, "Stretches out a conduit
for kids who feel disenfranchised."
Nordhoff counselor Janice McCormick gave an update on Nordhoff
High School's College Readiness Program, which included several
avenues of preparation. Students gave an overview of Bilingual
Parent Mentor Program, which is designed to guide Spanish-speaking
parents through their childrens' college track; the AVID program,
or Advancement by Individual Determination, which targets students
who might need an extra push to get them motivated for post-secondary
education; the SAT preparation course, in which 79 students endured
a 90-hour Princeton Review course, with four practice tests;
and the Gold Key Club, designed for the top 50 students in each
class to share their experiences as they prepare for post-Nordhoff
education, with field trips and counseling.
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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