OUSD closing budget gap
By Bret Bradigan
In a welcome relief from the
grim uncertainty of its financial predicament, the Ojai Unified
School District withdrew from a transportation arrangement with
the Ventura County Superintendent of Schools for special education
The move will save the district about $160,000 each year; even
more should the district choose to buy, rather than lease, the
three wheelchair-accessible vans.
That means $160,000 down, $1.34 million or so to go.
"I don't see a downside to this, quite frankly," said
Superintendent Dr. Van Riley. When board member Kathi Smith asked
if someone was "going to smooth things over with the county,"
Riley said that the county actually incurred expense administering
the special education transportation funds and would have no
problems with OUSD taking over the program.
These budget cuts come on top of $1.025 million in cuts the district
has already made, bringing the total expected reductions to nearly
Riley's began his presentation to the board with the qualifier
that the budget clouds in Sacramento are unlikely to clear before
the district must pass its balanced budget in June.
The key will be Gov. Gray Davis' budget revision in May. "There'll
be lots of guesswork between what the legislative analyst then
says, and we'll have to guess which way to go," Riley said.
What direction they go will also depend on the employee organizations,
particularly the Ojai Federation of Teachers and the California
State Employees Organization. Riley's budget cut blueprint includes
a one-year step-and-column pay hike freeze and a three-day furlough
for all employees that would save the district $600,000. That's
on top of reductions in classified staff and expenses for another
$200,000 in savings.
During the superintendent's report, the board discussed moves
by Ventura Unified School District to tighten its interdistrict
transfer policies. As many as 300 students from Oak View and
surrounding areas attend Ojai Unified School District on transfers,
and while assurances were made that Ventura wouldn't fight transfers
for students now attending Ojai schools, it was learned that
a hard-line stance was likely.
Riley said that Ventura Unified
was apparently pressuring the Ventura County Superintentent of
Schools to back their transfer denials.
Riley said that Oak View parents "were very hurt, very upset,
very angry," about these moves to deny their children the
right to attend Ojai schools, and that a petition to having OUSD
annex Oak View was apparently being circulated.
Consistent with the district's view that parents should get to
decide which schools their children attend, Riley suggested three
approaches to the board.
The first is to seek the county superintendent's help to "hold
off on blanket denials for a year," while the annexation
issue was explored. Riley warned that annexing Oak View students
brought up "legal, financial, bond issues," including
having to purchase Sunset Elementary School. The second approach
was to develop a system to guide Oak View parents through the
appeals process at the county level, should their transfer request
be denied by Ventura Unified.
The third, and perhaps most involved, approach, would be to set
up Nordhoff High School, Matilija Junior High School, Mira Monte
Elementary and Meiners Oaks Elementary as dependent charter schools.
Organizational difficulties and complexities aside, this move
would mean that any parent in the state of California could send
their children to Ojai schools.
"That's a pretty strong position, obviously," Riley
said. "But it's the ultimate public school position. Parents
should have a choice in public schools, and this is the way to
give it to them without going through the appeals process."
Riley planned to report back to the board at its next meeting
on May 6 about further discussions with the county superintendent.
Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube said that the voluntary drug
testing program tested its first six students, and that he closely
followed the procedures.
"I feel strongly that the
procedures have to be discreet, and direct and legal," he
said. So far, 85 students have signed up, and 10 were tested.
Six more tests are planned by the end of the school year. "The
feedback I get is from families is that they've never had the
discussions they're having now," he said.
The sparsely attended meeting did not include any members of
the Citizens for Peaceful Resolution, which requested a board
action to allow students to "opt in" to the provision
of the recent No Child Left Behind Act that required schools
to share information with military recruiters.
The form, which was drafted and
presented, would allow students to indicate where they would
like their information released - military recruiters, colleges
Since an oversight led to the Nordhoff High School's release
of information form being dropped from the regular agenda and
placed before the board for inclusion as an emergency item, the
board voted to bring it back May 6 for further discussion and
Board member Rikki Horne said the board needed to beware of possible
Brown Act violations, "The public's right to know supersedes
what's on the agenda."
Mira Monte parent Kristin Belshe urged the board to come to the
school Friday morning for their "Snow Day," where 12
tons of snow were being trucked in for simulated winter fun as
a reward for the students.
Riley also said that the word from the 120 Nordhoff High School
students who returned this week from New York City after their
performance at Carnegie Hall was upbeat. The performances went
well and were well-received by large crowds.
The Ojai Valley News
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