OUSD begins cutting costs
By Bret Bradigan
Nordhoff High School's construction-related
water outages and the debut of voluntary drug testing were among
key items at Tuesday's Ojai Unified School District board of
But budget concerns again dominated the discussion, as even routine
checks and accounts payable spurred heated debate.
Board member Bob Unruhe cast the lone dissenting vote against
paying the district's January bills, after he tallied up 30 items
related to district administrators and staff attending conferences.
As a point of order, Superintendent Van Riley removed the items
from the consent calendar, opening them to discussion before
the board moved to approve them, 4-1.
But not before Unruhe made it clear that he was not in favor
of sending district staff to conferences. "I can't, in good
conscience, vote for something like that," he said. "Not
when we are going to tell people they won't have a job next year."
The district has estimated that midyear
and next year budget shortages will require the district to lay
off as many as 11 teachers, though they hope that most of that
can be made up with retirements and leaves of absence. Teachers
must be informed by March 15 if the district will require their
services for the following school year.
Board member Kathi Smith said that the information gathered at
these conferences was essential to dealing with the district's
money crunch. "In times like this, it is essential to send
administrators to learn how to deal with budgets," she said.
"I have no problem at all with people going to conferences
during lean budget times."
Riley reminded the board that the district's bills were already
itemized as part of the budget the board passed, and most of
the expenses were incurred before the state's fiscal emergency
filtered down to the local level.
Even though it may be months before the smoke clears from Sacramento
budget situation, the district has already made substantial progress,
Riley said, outlining an estimated $407,000 in cuts through not
filling a plant manager vacancy, transfers, and canceling all
open purchase orders.
Everything is still on the table for discussion
for additional cuts, he said. At one of those conferences in
question, Riley said he was advised that district's should proceed
as if Gov. Gray Davis' cuts were going to pass. "It's going
to affect everybody," he said. "That's the way it is
Among those items on the table for budget cuts were freezes to
step increases, eliminating Nordhoff's 7th period, reducing classroom
offerings such as physical education or music in elementary schools,
class sizes, or even seeking a parcel tax. Though it is probably
too late in the year, Riley also mentioned shortening the school
year by five days. "It's unlikely for this year, but not
impossible for this year," he said.
Later in the meeting, two of the district classified employees
spoke about their fears and concerns as the budget crisis draws
Sandra Murphy, a part-time library technician and full-time parent
volunteer, said, "I'm here to remind you of who the classified
employees are" and listed the many quiet duties performed,
such as providing students with a sympathetic ear, cleaning up
their messages, getting them to and from school safely and being
conduits to the community. "We are shown we are dispensable
with every budget crisis, and I wonder how you will live without
Local Classifed Service Employee Association Vice President Dorothy
Johnson spoke about the effects of budget cuts on morale, noticing
the increasing workloads, and consequent stress, that school
secretaries, for instance, have faced. She also mentioned a recently
laid off art instructor at Chaparral High School who, though
with a part-time position, represented "one-third of our
fine arts program." This instructor has volunteered to continue
teaching. She also mentioned the delays in enrolling students
transferring from Nordhoff to Chaparral. "Everybody is picking
up the slack, but I have yet to find an administrator who can
enroll students in the SASY system."
The point, Johnson said, was the budget should not be balanced
on the backs of the classified employees. "The classified
employees are more the heart and soul of the district than is
commonly recognized," she concluded.
In other business, the board received an update on the Nordhoff
High School construction project, which is proceeding according
to plan, despite the occasional busted water line. And there
is even an upside to the unscheduled water outages, as Assistant
Superintendent Jim Berube said they are an opportunity to replace
The district's wetlands grant money, a
joint project with the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy to drain
Nordhoff's sporting fields into the conservancy's Ojai Meadows,
has not been received, Riley said, though the funding letter
is in its final form, awaiting signature from the state. Consequently,
the time table has been pushed back, which allows the district
to maneuver around sports schedules, minimizing disruptions to
Nordhoff sports, as well as Pony League baseball and Ojai Eagles
During the student representative report, Lauren Wyatt said that
leadership class at Nordhoff raised money for Colby Chapman's
leukemia treatments, and received a visit from the 11-year-old.
"It was heart warming and sad at the same time,"
she said. She also mentioned that leadership students were supportive
of voluntary drug testing, as it gave them cover to refuse peer
pressure to use drugs.
Unruhe urged the district to bring in the public for guidance
on the $14 million in state bond money the district will be receiving,
for which Riley received praise for nearly doubling the amount
of 1998's local bond issue with state matching funds.
The district also voted to hold special meetings on Feb. 25 at
1 p.m. at Nordhoff High School to talk to students and to review
construction progress. The board will also meet again that day
at 7:30 p.m.
The Ojai Valley News
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