OUSD eyes further cuts
By Bret Bradigan
Even after trimming more than
a million from its present budget this year, Ojai Unified School
District Superintendent Dr. Van Riley presented plans to cut
another $1.475 million Tuesday night.
The plan anticipates a 7 percent reduction in state funding for
the district's $25 million budget, which totals $2.5 million
for this school year and the 2003-04 year. Though it may be well
into the fall before the state of California passes its own budget,
the district is obligated to pass its own budget by the end of
Among the cuts discussed are pay freezes, a three-day furlough,
which would save $300,000, and reductions in classified staff
for a $200,000 savings. The district recently reduced its number
of teachers by 25, which may be offset as grants and other sources
of funds are secured. Revenue-raising suggestions included charging
more for use of district facilities, incentives for staff to
retire early, reducing overtime and substitute pay and local
Riley also asked the district to "at least consider"
holding an election to pass a short-term parcel tax to raise
money to see the district through the difficult times ahead.
He said there were about 9,500 parcels in the district boundaries.
Board chairman, Tim Peddicord, agreed that raising taxes would
not be a popular option, but that few alternatives were left.
"I think it's worth looking into," he said. "How
much more could we cut?"
The U.S. military may have its way with Iraq, but they will have
to follow the same rules as every one else on Nordhoff High School's
campus, it was announced at Tuesday night's marathon meeting.
The high school, said Principal Dan Musick, has adopted a policy
that puts military recruiters on the same restrictions as college
and university recruiters. "All meetings will take place
in the Career Center, a school office, or a classroom. Recruiters
will not be allowed to walk around the campus and talk to students
not signed up for presentation," the policy read, in part.
The board also addressed the provision of No Child Left Behind
Act, the federal education legislation that requires new levels
of testing and accountability, including penalties, up to and
including closing the doors, on schools to fail to reach tough
Dr. Tim Baird, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, led the
board through the provisions of the law. While it does bring
some benefits and relief to local school districts - such as
flexibility on spending - it also requires schools to show average
yearly progress, or AYP. Though the law is in its second year,
it's still not clear what factors determine AYP. Baird said that
California's Academic Performance Index test results are factored
into that score, the scores don't match up entirely.
And failure to meet that yearly
progress brings stiff penalties. After two years of failing to
meet those targets, parents are allowed to send their kids to
another school, with the district picking up the tab. After three
years, underperforming schools may have to pay for tutoring,
and four years of failure brings restructuring, replacement of
administrators, and even closure. The ticker, Baird said, started
in 2002, though the district did not receive notice that any
schools had failed to meet the AYP targets.
The Act also holds teachers to a higher standard, giving districts
until 2006 to have all teachers designated as High Quality Teachers,
complete with bachelor's degrees, certification in their specialty
and rigorous testing.
Baird summed up by saying that many provisions of the act are
still vague. "There are issues involved with this bill that
are a little scary," he said, particularly the average yearly
performance index. Board member Bob Unruhe said, "The way
the law is written, every school in the United States will be
out of compliance," which he surmised might further an agenda
of directing tax dollars toward private schools.
But the bulk of the packed house had come to urge the district
to support a resolution from Citizens for Peaceful Resolution,
to require "affirmative assent" on particularly controversial
requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act that school districts
must provide names and addresses of all students to the military.
Student or parents may request their contact information be kept
confidential, however, which formed the crux of the presentation
by Citizens for Peaceful Resolution.
Before those appeals began, however, Peddicord has his own appeal
for civility, noting that military veterans were present. He
then read from World War I poet and slain soldier Wilfred Owen's
"Futility," which opens with these lines:
Move him into the sun--
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
David Howard, a teacher at Oak Grove School, asked the board
to consider their proposal, modeled after a similar policy at
Conejo School District, to presume that the students' privacy
rights take precedence, and that parents and students must "opt
in" to have their information shared, what he called "affirmative
assent." Unless they do so, it would be presumed that they
do not want their information shared.
"The rights of students have already been violated,"
he said, indicating that the Feb. 14 deadline to "opt out"
of the database had passed.
Dennis Daneau, a teacher at Nordhoff High School, said he was
presented with a petition of 65 students who wished their information
to be kept private. "The military has greater access to
students than colleges and universities," he said, urging
that peace activists be given equal access at job fairs and at
the Career Center.
Margot Eiser also spoke in support of having students opt in,
rather than opt out, of the database, and further urged the district
to "develop programs for alternatives" to military
service. "Students need to see the real effects of war,"
noting that half of Iraq's population was under the age of 15.
The board voted to continue with the present policy, though by
a narrow, 3-2, margin. Kathi Smith said the Conejo policy was
fraught with potential pitfalls that could cost the district
its significant share of federal money, leaving the district
with little choice: "The only way around it, in my opinion,
is to refuse the money."
Board member Rikki Horne requested that the board "get our
own reading" of the law. "We're not in a position to
turn back the money, even though it comes with detestable things."
She also suggested that forms be made easily available, through
homerooms and on the school's Website, to "make it easy
to opt out."
Musick said that, to date, 80 students had requested that their
information not be shared, out of a 1,200 students. He also said
that "no armed services have asked for the database."
Lynne Woods, a counselor at Nordhoff who runs the Career Center,
said that "because we don't have a formal policy, (military
recruiters) have a very heavy presence on campus." Few students
at Nordhoff go into the military, though, she said, "We
average two or three a year," she said. "It's a very
The board dealt with several more harmonious issues, naming March
"Music in Our Schools Month" and signing on in support
of a proposed $34,000 grant from Ojai Festivals, Inc., to expand
the Bravo! program to Meiners Oaks. San Antonio School has had
Bravo! in place for two years. Bravo! provides music education
to students in grades 2 through 6, as well as studies on the
effects of music education on academic performance.
Tim Pompey, the Festivals' education director, said that by supporting
the grant and the Bravo! program, "The board makes a statement
about its position on arts education."
The 4-hour meeting began with a brief presentation from Ojai
Performing Arts Theater Foundation leaders Joan Kemper and David
Bury about plans for a 450-seat performing arts center. The center
would provide a regional training center for performing arts
career, be they onstage, or behind the scenes, and would include
10 classrooms. And while the Ojai Performing Arts Theater Foundation
would own and operate the building, the school district would
own the land, and have first priority on its use.
Riley called the plan "a wonderful dream and vision for
this district in partnership with the community," which
will become, he said, "the top program in the state of California."
Kemper said the center would help reverse the district's declining
enrollment, and revenue, "by becoming a magnet school for
performing arts. That's vitally important."
The total price tag of the project was estimated at $15 million,
and, if everything proceeds smoothly, the center would be complete
Bury, who is an architect in addition to a member of the Ojai
City Council, said the center "would serve as a transition
point between the campus and community."
The next step, they said, is to obtain "permits and approvals,"
which could cost as much as $800,000, which they asked the board
to provide from its $14.8 million bond fund pool. "The bottom
line is we want to see this done, acceptable and appropriate
for the school district," said Bury.
Unruhe said, "Ever since I moved to Ojai 24 years ago, I've
been hearing about an auditorium. This project has got more momentum
than anything I've seen so far."
Bury said the district "would have every opportunity to
give us input and to review," and that the design of the
center would fit with the current construction project at Nordhoff.
The board won't meet again until April 18, at which time Riley
will present another budget update and the results of discussions
and negotiations with the Ojai Federation of Teachers and California
State Employees Association.
The Ojai Valley News
to the news