OUSD budget cuts approved
by Bret Bradigan
Ojai Unified School District board of trustees were all ayes
on its two big issues Tuesday night - slashing $1.8 million from
its $25 million budget, and approving a new charter school.
The motion to approve the budget cuts, which have been dissected
and discussed since February, did not come without comment. The
district, faced with steep enrollment declines, will open for
school in August with 11 fewer teachers, nine fewer classified
staff, one less administrator and one-half fewer classified management
positions, to serve about 189 fewer students.
Before opening the discussion about cuts to classified staff,
Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube said, "This is the hardest
management situation I've been under in 25 years It is absolutely
necessary to do this in the smartest way."
Barbi Rice, president of the local California State Employees
Association chapter, said the classified staff - representing
the district's 113 bus drivers, cafeteria staff, janitors, groundskeepers
and secretaries - appreciated the willingness of the administrators
to listen to their concerns. In exchange for accepting the steep
cuts to hours and staff, the classified employees asked "your
assurance that these hours be restored as soon as possible,"
should the budget situation improve.
Board member Vince France said this process was made more painful
by the district's small size. "It's a lot easier in big
districts like Los Angeles. There are no faces to go with the
names. This is somewhat of a family situation - we're all in
Board member Bob Unruhe urged the classified staff to keep the
board informed about the effect of the budget cuts on their ability
to do their jobs. "As problems develop, let us know right
away," he said.
District finance officer Danielle Pusatere ran down highlights
of the budget situation for the board before they voted, including
the staff cuts. This budget for the 2002-03 school year also
includes a 2 percent cost of living raise, a 3 percent reserve
for emergencies, $350,000 for salary adjustments and, if expenses
are on target, about $35,000 left over.
Some classified staff members weren't reassured.
Dorothy Johnson, Chaparral School secretary and 23-year district
veteran, said, "This has been an interesting education for
me I'm still not sure the district is being run as efficiently
as it can be." She also mentioned that - in conversations
with her - district administrators "consider the merit system
John McCarthy, another classified member, disputed that these
budget cuts "were fair and equitable. Fair and equitable,
to me, is if there's a 1 percent cut, then that 1 percent cut
is taken across the board."
Just before the vote, France said this isn't a one-time process.
"I'm afraid it's going to be worse next year. It's not going
to be fun," he said.
Superintendent Van Riley agreed, but said, "We're in as
good a financial shape as we could hope for," noting that
in the June 4 board meeting, he handed out a three-page sheet
listing the programs and projects at the schools. "I'm very
proud of that."
The Valley Oak Charter returned to the board for a public hearing
on their proposal. The charter, upon direction of the district,
was rewritten to more closely collaborate with the other schools,
and to address liability, employee, and parent issues. This charter
school proposal, an outgrowth of the Homeschooling Resource Center,
was particularly difficult, said Assistant Superintendent Baird,
who worked closely with the homeschooling parents.
"This is the most complicated - it is a charter school and
a study center," he said.
Riley said he enjoyed working on the proposal and the charter
school applicants. "They really had a vision - they were
able to help us, and we're were able to help them."
Martha Fellows, one of charter school organizers, said, "This
is good for the district, good for the families and good for
The board concurred. Kathi Smith, board president, said, "I
hope the community recognizes the administration's willingness
to look at the charter school."
Valley Oak Charter School would serve between 30 to 60 students,
with budget plans for $161,427 per year for 40 students. The
school would serve as a liaison between homeschoolers and the
Ojai Unified School District, and provide a variety of programs
and instruction for homeschool students to learn in group settings.
In other business before the board, Berube gave an update on
construction projects. The 23 portable classrooms at San Antonio
Elementary School have been removed, and two lease-to-buy relocatable
buildings - which will cost $459,487 over five years - will
replace them. The job is proceeding on schedule, as Berube said
it must. "Once we start this job, we'd better finish on
At Nordhoff High School, bids are due Sept. 24 for the $4.9 million
project, and construction is scheduled to start in October.
Riley closed the meeting by noting the success of the graduations
throughout the district. "At every school, the promotion
ceremonies were really touching."
© 2002 The Ojai Valley News
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