School layoffs averted for this year
Concerns about midyear layoffs of classified employees were eased when Superintendent Diane Scheerhorn relayed the message that the immediate impact of Gov. Gray Davis’ budget proposal won’t be as severe as once thought.
Scheerhorn, speaking at a Tuesday night Lake Tahoe Unified School District Board of Education meeting, addressed a crowd of nearly 100 people who breathed easier when news came that there would likely be fewer than expected or no midyear layoffs.
Scheerhorn received word over her fax machine that the current proposal will not bring as many immediate cuts as imagined, but said next year’s hit would remain severe.
“According to this alert, we will not be seeing an across-the-board cut,” Scheerhorn said enthusiastically.
“I hope this is good news to you,” she added.
Scheerhorn gave the news after Joy Rothschild, chief negotiator and vice president of California School Employees Association, kicked off a lengthy public comment session.
Rothschild listed the duties of the members of her group: bus drivers, cafeteria workers, custodians, instructional assistants, office staff, district staff and library clerks, then pleaded with the board to spend some of the 5 percent in reserves, about $1.8 million, instead of laying off people this year.
Classified staff, more than 200 in the district, must receive a 30-day notice before being let go. Teachers must have knowledge of their layoffs on March 15 for the next school year.
The difference means classified staff are the most susceptible to midyear employee reductions.
Custodian Tony Marquez said the district takes his group for granted but custodians are the ones to lock the doors at night and prepare classrooms each day.
“Sanitation is not an option,” Marquez said.
Rick Tinius, another custodian, believed the chance of cutting custodians would affect the safety of schools and thus hurt the community. He also painted a rather ugly picture for the audience and board members.
“Depending on the availability of custodians, vomit and blood on the floor will not get cleaned up,” he said.
Gary Freeman, an 18-year bus driver for the district, spoke of his and his colleague’s importance in driving students to school safely in unsavory winter conditions.
Gretchen Chavarria and five other elementary library clerks mentioned their importance in helping low-income students find books and helping them read. As a Bijou Elementary instructional aide, Gail Gates said she was an integral part in instituting the federal No Child Left Behind Act and helping students follow teachers’ lesson plans.
“If there are no instructional aides, who will pick up the loose ends?” Gates asked.
Scott Ramirez, who works at the district office, asked for people’s patience and understanding while visiting the administrative center.
Board members were ecstatic with the audience, who packed the library at South Tahoe High School. Member Madeline Fernald said the output will help with the decision-making process.
“Everybody expected midyear reductions but now people can plan if they are going to be released,” Fernald said. “People won’t be thrown into crisis mode.”
Board President Lennie Schwartz said the difficulty lies in cutting a budget where the biggest slice goes toward salary. Schwartz was also impressed with the professionalism and heartfelt presentations.
“As we wrestle with whatever will come out of the Legislature, we have to consider the people who impact the district,” he said.
The district still faces more than a $1 million deficit after losing about 260 students from the start of last school year and a budget crunch for next school year.
A special board meeting next Thursday at 4:30 p.m. will cover the changes in the governor’s proposal and an evaluation of the district’s financial state by School Services of California.
— E-mail William Ferchland at firstname.lastname@example.org
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