OUSD closing budget gap
By Bret Bradigan
With one board meeting before
approving next year's budget, the Ojai Unified School District
learned Tuesday night that district administrators had closed
to within $329,000 of the total $1,719,000 in needed cuts.
Superintendent Dr. Van Riley and Dannielle Pusatere, the district's
fiscal officer, led the board through the latest news from California's
budget front in Sacramento. While still bleak, the picture has
improved from Gov. Gray Davis' grim forecast in January.
The May budget revision has restored
$770,000 - from an expected $2,489,000 in cuts to a more realistic
$1,719,000, though Riley cautioned that these number are likely
to change until the state passes its budget, a process which
could drag on through the summer. School districts are required
to pass their budgets by July 1.
One boon to the district is a provision that allows them to use
50 percent of any unspent categorical fund balances to offset
mid-year budget cuts. Given the tight reins on spending already
in place, this has given the Ojai District an extra $335,000.
To close that remaining $329,000 gap with a safe cushion, Riley
proposed cuts in four areas totaling $430,000 - $100,000 for
Elementary preparation time for music and physical education;
$200,000 in further classified staff reductions; categorical
offsets or rolling over savings totaling $100,000; and $30,000
in additional line item cuts.
Riley expressed recommended against cuts in library funds, work-day
furloughs and step and column freezes.
"If we do any (further) reductions at all, in the future,
it will affect classrooms," he said.
Before moving that the board accept Riley's recommendations on
a proposed budget for action at the June 24 board meeting, board
President Tim Peddicord said, "I think we've caused enough
pain with the cuts we've already made."
The lengthy meeting got off to a bittersweet beginning, as district
principals and administrators acknowledged veteran staff members
who would not be returning for the next school year. Summit High
School Principal Doug Becker extolled the virtues of Veronica
"Ronnie" Rodriguez, who is leaving the school after
30 years, and who has been in teaching for 37 years. "She's
a great teacher, but more than that, she's been a great leader
for her students, for her school, for the district and for her
community," he said.
Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube read a letter from a satisfied
passenger of bus driver Karen Corley, who had gone above and
beyond the call of duty in 1972, and was retiring after 31 years
with the district. "She's pulled a whole lot of us out of
trouble over the years," he said.
Other retirees acknowledged were Nordhoff High School secretary
Carolyn "Pinky" Belshe, retiring after 24 years; David
Cure, a Nordhoff janitor retiring after 17 years; Donna Dahlstrom-Rabe,
retiring after 19 years as a teacher, and after six years as
Nordhoff's Spanish teacher; and Nancy Hurley, the district's
purchasing officer retiring after 30 years.
Putting the special in special education were two district educators,
who were honored at the meeting by receiving the Golden Bell
Award from the Ventura County Community Advisory Committee. Vickie
Surroz, a teacher at Topa Topa Elementary School, and Doug Roberts,
a physical education teacher at Matilija Junior High School were
nominated by their special needs students and parents. Dr. Bernard
Korenstein, executive director of the Special Education Local
Area Plan, said that only five educators in Ventura County are
selected from among the 20 districts and 2,600 eligible people.
"That says a lot about the
quality of what goes on around Ojai," he said.
Lauren Wyatt, at her final meeting as the student representative
to the board, was praised by Nordhoff Principal Dan Musick, who
gave her credit "for a 180-degree turnaround in the attitude
of the student body."
Student handiwork was on display for the board of trustees before
the meeting began, in the Chaparral Auditorium, with more than
a dozen service learning projects and the students responsible
for it. Chris Johnson, the district's service learning director,
and administrator of the CalServ grant, informed the district
that the project has gone beyond its three-year development phase,
and into a three-year sustainability phase, according to the
"We are finding ways to
have service learning become part of the curriculum," she
said. "We address in the classroom real community problems
while meeting (education curriculum) standards." After three
years, 15 partners have signed on, from the first, Ojai Valley
Land Conservancy, to the City of Ojai to private outfits such
as Ojai Solar Electric.
The district will receive $300,000 over those three years from
CalServ, as well as another $76,000 this coming year from the
state for projects that teach values espoused by Cesar Chavez.
"We're in good shape for next year," Johnson said,
noting that the district's service learning programs and lesson
plans have become a model for other districts.
John Walker, the district's classified personnel director, presented
the board with justifications for the role of his office, noting
that district employees voted for the commission, and its merit
system of promotions and hiring, in 1969. Though only about 10
percent of California's 1,000 school districts have a classified
personnel commission, 60 percent of the state's school classified
employees are represented, given that most of the larger districts
The commission reduced its budget 23 percent last year, as Walker
is a part-time employee, and the entire staffing equals only
1.4 full-time positions. The entire budget last year was $124,665
- less per employee than other districts in Ventura County. He
also said that the office keeps busy screening and testing job
applicants, presenting lists of acceptable candidates to the
Board member Rikki Horne questioned the redundancies of the system.
"Why the personnel commission and CSEA (California State
Employees Association)? Don't they serve as watchdogs for classified
employees?" Board member Bob Unruhe noted that since the
advent of collective bargaining, the need for the commission
has diminished, though board member Pauline Mercado said that
"it was nice to have a process where we are one step removed"
from charges of favoritism or retaliation.
Walker said, "This is the system in place that the employees
have voted on
Walker acknowledged "that there is some contention built
into the system. The personnel commission has the last say when
it comes to ultimate discipline."
In other business, the district approved a change in the Smart
Start lease to a 10-year lease at $100 per month for the four
Smart Start sites at local elementary schools. Smart Start Director
Dana Huffman thanked the board for its backing. "You've
really supported us during some hard times," she said.
The Ojai Valley News
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