Bottom line is students will lose
February 28, 2003
It is hard to fathom anyone not being affected by the cutbacks facing Lake Tahoe Unified School District.
Layoffs are never easy to swallow even when they are anticipated. Twenty-one teachers will be told by March 15 that they will not have a job with the district next year. About 70 classified staff members will either be on the street looking for another job or have their schedules scaled back.
All of this is to compensate for a $2.7 million budget deficit that is the result of the district losing average daily attendance money because of declining enrollment and the state balancing its budget on the backs of students.
We commend the school board for giving up its benefits for next year and the administration for restructuring its medical benefits to help the district save money.
We wonder why the leader of the district, Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn, did not step up to the plate to make personal concessions. She had the perfect opportunity earlier this month, as did the board, when she was given a 2 percent cost of living raise retroactive to the start of the fiscal year. Although it would only amount to a savings of $2,500, the morale boost would have paid dividends.
Perhaps it is time for the teachers to start paying a portion of their medical benefits, as is common in other districts and most professions. Teachers do not have one dime taken out of their paychecks for medical benefits. Next time negotiations come around, the teachers need to take it upon themselves to give something up.
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The cost-of-living allowance has been axed from the budget by the state, but teachers will still receive raises based on the number of years in the district and education units earned.
Four or five of the teachers going by the wayside are physical education specialists at the elementary level. When this was announced to the nearly 350 people attending this week’s meeting, several teachers moaned about having to pick up the slack.
It was not that many years ago that elementary teachers regularly taught inside and outside of the classroom. Specialists in any area almost always do a better job than non-specialists, but it is hard to imagine children playing kickball and tetherball needing a specialist.
Nor is it unreasonable for student-athletes to have to pitch in to play. It costs to play in recreation and other organized leagues. Undoubtedly the district will come up with a plan that does not penalize people who play several sports or families with multiple children. If anyone will be hurt, it will be the middle-class families because the lower income students will most likely be subsidized and the upper income households will not flinch.
There is no crystal ball the district or board could have looked at to see this coming down the pike. However, there are important lessons to be learned because some of the signs should have been seen. Scheerhorn illustrated the plight with various charts. It has been evident for years that enrollment was going to be a problem for the district. This makes it logical to have started projecting what the loss in average daily attendance dollars was going to be.
Basic math tells us that when revenue declines and spending either stays at the same level or increases, the bottom line is going to be a negative number. And so here we are. It makes us wonder who the math whizzes are in the district and on the board. There needs to be better foresight and fiscal responsibility and accountability within the Lake Tahoe Unified School District.
After all, at the root of all of this is our children — the teachers they will be losing, the increased class sizes, the longer bus rides to school, the dirtier classrooms and campuses, and the lack of resources to make them productive members of our society.