Seething audience rips school board | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Seething audience rips school board

William Ferchland, Tahoe Daily Tribune

A board of education meeting that ended with a fiery public comment session revealed more thoughts about the state budget crisis and a 2 percent pay increase for the superintendent.

News about Diane Scheerhorn’s pay increase drew groans and exasperation from the audience.

The district has been caught between a rock and a hard place with declining enrollment which will likely force reductions in programs and staff to cover a shortfall of $1.3 million. California’s severe budget crisis has not helped matters.

— Questioning pay hike

“How can you put administrative salaries above jobs and programs?” asked Jody Dayberry, a frustrated parent and Sierra House Elementary teacher.

Scheerhorn’s contract gave her $125,000 for the 2001-02 school year. The 2 percent increase will give her an additional $2,500 per year. The board of education also extended her contract a year to June 30, 2005.

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Dayberry and others also questioned the $11,000 pay increase to $100,087 per year for Human Resource Director Beth Delacour. Delacour’s new contract beefed up her workdays from 205 to 230 per year.

Board President Lennie Schwartz took a moment after Dayberry spoke to tell the crowd the increase was for this year and explained that administrators are the last in line for raises.

“It’s this year’s (contract) not next year’s contract,” Schwartz said. “(Scheerhorn’s) pay raise is the same 2 percent that was offered to the teachers’ union, classified union, management. She is not getting more of a pay increase than anybody else.”

Schwartz said it took time to get both contracts “in order” adding they would not have raised the same fuss if they had appeared in December.

Both are retroactive this year.

“When you negotiate with the unions, you offer the same thing to your management,” Schwartz said. “If we were talking about next year’s contract and talking about giving her an increase, that would be irresponsible.”

However, Mike Patterson, former president of South Tahoe Educators Association, said four low-paid teachers at South Tahoe High School were denied that raise this year in a letter signed by Scheerhorn.

Scheerhorn countered Patterson’s statement.

The four teachers were part of the Regional Occupational Program, Scheerhorn said. They did not get a cost of living adjustment because the ROP board decided this year that, with the state budget uncertainty, they wouldn’t get the 2 percent increase until more information was available, she said.

As for being the head of a district in financial straits and accepting a raise, Scheerhorn stated the raise was for this year, not next year, and “we’re going to look at all options for 2003-04 school year.”

— More budget news

El Dorado County Superintendent Vicki Barber and Deputy Superintendent Francie Heim sat in close proximity to the teachers and parents who were speaking.

The two top county education officials heard requests for the reinstatement of a budget advisory board, pleas from two elementary physical education teachers to save their program, anger over the ambiguity of a survey sent to parents to list program importance and insistence on using some of the 5 percent, or about $1.8 million, in reserves.

Barber and Heim presented a report on the estimated $34.6 billion state budget deficit and potential impacts on education and LTUSD.

Heim, who covers budget issues and analysis, said Gov. Gray Davis’ budget proposal, which calls for midyear reductions, would impact El Dorado County school districts by $4.9 million. LTUSD, which receives state funding of $4,723 per student who occupies a desk, could see a decrease of $200 to $250 per student next school year.

With more than 5,000 students in the district, it means an additional impact of at least $1 million.

Heim said the state Senate and Assembly made a “compromise package” on Feb. 4, but indicators such as Davis’ concern over increases in the vehicle license fee likely means he would veto the bill.

Heim said Davis mentioned the crisis should be dealt with with “real cuts” this year as opposed to the June 30 payment deferral of $1.1 billion to July proposed by the Legislature.

The short deferral should not disrupt cash flow, meaning the district could still cash checks.

Heim expected a counter proposal by the Legislature to the governor’s veto. Fingers are crossed that signed legislation will arrive before the end of February.

At the end of the meeting, Barber said the district is in a “tough time” with “no easy answer and no quick fix” while commending the community’s involvement.

— Parcel tax is an option

Along with transportation, athletic and music fees, administrators have tossed around the idea of a parcel tax to increase revenue. Scheerhorn has hinted at a summer vote if the school board decides to go ahead.

Michele Mac Intyre, registrar of voters for the county, said Wednesday that she has not been contacted by the district and would need 88 days after paperwork is received to make a date. For example, to have a June 3 vote, Mac Intyre would have to receive paperwork including the question, analysis and other items by March 7.

Absentee voters could vote in the election if they are registered.

There are 13,253 voters in South Lake Tahoe. A parcel tax is a set amount that all owners of land within the district would have to pay. It must be passed by two-thirds of voters and would be used for a specific use such as transportation, music or class-size reduction.

Scheerhorn and the five-member school board did not receive any praise for their handling of the situation during the public comment session.

Angela Swanson, Sierra House Parent-Teacher Association president, said the district broke a “covenant in faith” in her impression of the district’s lack of desire for community input.

“I’m mad, I’m tired and I’m done with this,” she said.

Schwartz, who said that no decisions have been made in private, took the microphone to say “we do listen.” With a shrug, the meeting was adjourned to closed session.

Decisions on cuts are expected to arrive next month but before March 15, when selected teachers will be notified that they won’t have a job next year.

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