Budget cuts challenged
by Bret Bradigan
More questions were asked than answers given at the Ojai Unified
School District board of trustees meeting Tuesday night.
The district, still negotiating to close the $1.8 million budget
gap from falling enrollment, debated back and forth with representatives
of the classified staff about where the budget ax has fallen
Prior to that discussion, the board dealt with a busy agenda,
including the more pleasant task of awarding district maintenance
worker Chuck Henning as its Classified Employee of the Year.
Superintendent Dr. Van Riley said the top classified employee
is chosen by their peers, "and Chuck certainly rose to the
top of that pile of recommendations."
Pat Metheny, retired district administrator and current Gifted
and Talented Education coordinator, reviewed the district's plan
that is sent to the state of California every three years. Part
of that plan was the recent Math Super Bowl competition, which
Metheny praised. "When you do an event like this, you realize
that doing well is very important to our kids."
The GATE program serves 259 students in the district with its
The board also received the district's GATE policy for a first
reading. Heidi Whitman, part of the group of teachers and parents
that worked on the program, asked that it be sent back to parents
for further review before proceeding.
In response to safety questions at the May 7 meeting about reductions
in the numbers and hours for bus drivers, Eric Ordway, the district's
transportation supervisor, outlined how and where the $142,000
in cuts to the transportation budget were found. Of that, some
$50,000 came from not buying two buses as planned. Other savings
were found by keeping major mechanical work in-hous. More savings
were found from reducing the longest bus routes from eight-hour
shifts to six-and-a-half hour shifts "by tightening up the
routes and looking at efficiency," he said.
Board chairman Kathi Smith asked about how drivers calling in
sick would affect the schedules. Ordway said "That's a problem.
We're having a hard time finding substitute drivers." He
himself would be pressed into service, if necessary, as a substitute.
Bus driver Dorothy Williams, a 13-year district veteran, said
that cuts from 8 to 6.5 hours would cost her nearly $600 per
month in lost income. She also expressed concern about the difficulty
of finding substitute drivers. "That is a safety issue.
We work sick, tired and stressed."
Another classified employee, Dorothy Johnson, secretary at Chaparral
School and a 23-year district employee, once again stated that
the planned cuts to classified employees are three times that
of administration. Since the May 7 meeting where she spoke about
the apparent unfairness, "I've been amazed at the groundswell"
of comment and concern. Of particular concern to her was how
the district's administrative staff had grown despite the declining
enrollment during the past several years.
She also questioned why the district is apparently abolishing
the merit system, and how they hoped to meet their goal of $85,000
in cuts in classified staff through attrition, while counting
on those cuts to come from the lowest paid staffers.
"Show some mercy to us," Johnson said. These cuts to
classified staff "really are cuts to our lifestyle, to the
food we put on the table, to the car payments we might not be
able to make."
Johnson used the figures of 19 district administrators and 9
classified administrators. "It's my contention that we're
a little heavy on the top."
Riley said there were actually 14 administrative positions, while
Craig Walker, representing the Ojai Federation of Teachers, said
there were 17.8 administrative positions.
Some of those discrepancies, said Riley, were due to state mandated
programs, and those positions were paid through separate grants
and other funds. "Lots of programs have to added to California
schools require certificated people working outside the classroom,"
he said, noting that of the district's 188 teachers, 20 of them
are paid under separate categories. At one point,
At the request of Smith, Riley promised to address the apparent
discrepancy in the various numbers of administrators bandied
Smith also made a preemptive stand against sniping at expenses
for the special education programs. "I don't subscribe to
any criticism of that," she said. "These services are
needed by special learners, and you don't have to single any
program out to scapegoat."
Board member Tim Peddicord also reminded the classified employees
in attendance that the board fought for their pay raises in the
past. "We came to you," he said. "We don't expect
any gratitude, but we haven't been giving you shaft left and
Board member Bob Unruhe got a cheer from the crowd when he said
"Remember, we're dealing with human beings here. Asking
them to take 15 to 20 percent cuts is very difficult to digest.
We need to still make sure they have a living wage."
Part of the uncertainty about the extent and depth of the budget
cuts waiting for word from Gov. Gray Davis about his plans for
dealing with the state's budget deficit, which has ballooned
from $12.5 to $23.6 billion in recent weeks. Assistant Superintendent
Jim Berube received an update via teleconference.
"To sum it up in a few words, it's better than we thought,"
he said. "This is something we can work with, if it stays
this way. The Governor's priority is education, and he's standing
by his word so far."
Davis' plan so far keeps a cost of living increases at two percent
and 1.66 percent for general fund and categorical programs, and
some reimbursements from the state will be suspended. Berube
estimated that expense at about $300,000 per year.
Before going over the goals for the district, Riley ran down
a closely-spaced, three-page list of the district's achievements
during his 18-month tenure, which included doubling the district's
number of computers, increased music and arts programs, more
advanced placement classes, the county's lowest dropout rate,
improved test scores, community forums, and successful handling
of budget crises without hurting classroom instruction.
"It's important to look back and see some of the good things
that have gone on in the last 18 months," he said.
Future goals for the district, Riley said, include a child care
center for district employees, as well as improvements in staff
training, planning, communication, school safety and student
Board members contributed their own suggestions.
Peddicord wished to improve the nutritional value of cafeteria
food. Unruhe mentioned that a parent group was forming to seek
an indoor track at Nordhoff. Rikki Horne said her priorities
were continuing education for lifelong learners, and to do a
better job of involving parents and the communities in school
issues. Vince France thought that reading programs needed more
emphasis, and the goals themselves "need to be practical
and down-to-earth." Smith said that district's website could
be used as a tool of enhanced communication, and that lockers
at Nordhoff would improve school safety, as would having registered
nurses at the district's schools.
Other goals that emerged were student dropoff and pickup issues
at Matilija Junior High School, and school start times being
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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