OUSD cuts $1.7 million
By Bret Bradigan
The Ojai Unified School District
board of trustees approved Tuesday evening a $24.174 million
budget that eliminated 13 teaching, 15 classified and 2 administrative
jobs, cutting out $1.7 million.
And there may be worse to come. The state budget, which provides
the bulk of the district's financing, appears to be a long way
from its completion, with deficits approaching $38 billion and
threat of recall hanging over Gov. Gray Davis' head. Until that
situation is settled, uncertainty looms over funding for local
Despite the dire prognosis and job losses, the public at large
was largely absent from the budget hearing, prompting board member
Bob Unruhe to quip, "We spend $25 million and no one says
anything." Board member Rikki Horne said, "They may
all be at the city," where the Ojai City Council was dealing
with their own budget crisis.
The budget, as passed, reflects $480,000 in losses from teacher
job cuts, as well as $200,000 in classified staff cuts and $140,000
in administrative staff cuts.
Assistant Superintendent Jim Berube said that negotiations with
the California State Employees Association representatives for
classified cuts took months, and required ample amounts of good
will on both sides. "It's a grueling journey that we're
taking here," he said. "We're moving closer and closer
to the classroom."
It was Superintendent Dr. Van Riley's final meeting before taking
over as head of the Huntington Beach Unified High School District.
During the Superintendent's report, Riley ruefully summed up
his two years at the district, "We have less money and fewer
students." During the past year's budget crunch, when dozens
of members of the public were harsh in their criticism of budget
plans, Riley said he drafted up a list of positive developments
during his tenure. That list contained more than 100 items, including
increased test scores, doubling the number of computers in the
district, and millions of dollars in new grants.
"Watching those students
cross that stage (during Thursday's graduation ceremonies at
Nordhoff High School) gave me a great feeling that I've been
a part of that."
Board members were unequivocal in their praise of both Riley
and departing Matilija Junior High School Principal Christine
Golden, who will be replaced by Doug Becker, and who will, in
turn, be replaced at Summit and San Antonio Elementary Schools
by teacher and former acting Meiners Oak principal John LeSuer.
Board member Kathi Smith told Riley "that hallmark of the
benefits you've given us is common sense." Horne noted a
list of new programs and projects, particularly staff training
in diversity and support for music education. "You've touched
them all," she said. "You leave a significant legacy."
Dannielle Pusatere, the district's budget officer, said, in response
to board concern, that even without a state budget in place,
the district would not face a cash flow crisis. "We will
not have a problem paying payroll," she said.
While the board approved a waiver of the state's teacher credential
requirements for difficult-to-fill positions in math, language,
chemistry and others, Superintendent-in-waiting Dr. Tim Baird
gave an update on the provisions of the No Child Left Behind
Act that requires all school districts to have "highly qualified"
teachers, with appropriate credentials for the specialties they
teach. His concern is that, in two years when the deadline looms,
that shortages of teachers in speech, foreign languages, math,
science and chemistry, will become critical.
New Assistant Superintendent Jarice Butterfield, the district's
special education chief, revealed results of this year's survey
of parents. Of 400 surveys sent out, the district received back
44. "It was the most positive feedback I've had in my time
here," she said, noting that even topping a 10 percent response
rate was an improvement.
Strengths of special education at OUSD, according to the survey
results, were that parents felt they were part of their children's
individual education plans, and that case managers were doing
Weaknesses identified by the
parents of special education students included comments that
regular education teachers were not attending the individual
education plan meetings. "I've been less than popular to
tell them it's a professional responsibility," Butterfield
With 405 special education students now enrolled, "and with
regular enrollment dropping, that sends a red flag to me,"
she said. It is also, said Unruhe, a testament to the quality
of the program.
In a rare 4-1 vote, Smith voted against a board resolution urging
the state to lower from 66 percent to 55 percent the majority
needed to pass local parcel taxes. Smith said "all it accomplishes
is to let the state off the hook" for education funding.
"I don't think it serves the taxpayers well." She also
said it fostered inequalities in education, because rich districts
could more readily afford parcel taxes to pay for after-school
programs, music education or other enhancements. "It's a
slippery slope," she said.
Another resolution urged Sacramento lawmakers to come to pass
a budget before it affected education. "It's causing harm
to kids," Unruhe said. "Their (legislators') agenda
is to have complete chaos, because it makes it easier to recall
Summer construction projects are proceeding according to plan,
said Berube, who had line drawings of the Nordhoff High School
locker room/gym project and the athletic field construction paid
for by the $2 million wetlands grant. He said the gym would be
done by the opening of school, while the locker rooms wouldn't
be finished until October. "We have only nine weeks this
summer. We have less and less time to do extensive construction."
The wetlands project, which will improve the chronically poor
drainage from Nordhoff's baseball, track and soccer fields, while
creating and restoring a natural wetlands in the adjoining Ojai
Meadows Preserve, owned by the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy,
will begin mid-July and conclude in October.
A few glimmers of good news were scattered throughout the meeting.
At the outset, Dr. Joan Smith, executive vice president of Ventura
College, presented the district with a plaque of appreciation
for its decision to allow the college to use district classrooms
free of charge. Berube also got the board's OK to give professional
growth credits to 16 classified staff members who participated
in college courses, professional seminars, and job-related education.
Maximum credit is $2,100.
The board also gave the go-ahead to advertise for contractors
on a variety of projects paid for by recently passed Proposition
47, which brought the district's building fund to $14 million.
Projects on the list include reroofings, restroom upgrades, drainage
projects, and replacement of class bells and fire alarms.
Two policies on the release of student directory information,
and the access given to students given military recruiters,
both required by any school accepting federal money under the
No Child Left Behind Act, was adopted. The policy was urged by
peace activists concerned that military recruiters were given
he board policies state military
recruiters will be given the same access as other outside groups,
and that high school students and parents will be given ample
opportunity to opt out of releasing their information, and that
"the high school will keep an accurate and updated list
of students who wish to have their records withheld." The
board's final action before removing to closed session was to
pass a resolution urging that learning through community service
become integrated into the regular curriculum.
"This meets the district's
goals of helping to develop youth as contributing citizens and
allows the opportunity for youth to be seen as resources in their
community," the new policy reads.
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