Schools reduce staff |

Schools reduce staff

William Ferchland
Dan Thrift/Tahoe Daily Tribune

On Tuesday night, two five-member boards, one in charge of Lake Tahoe Unified School District and the other Lake Tahoe Community College, voted to make staffing cuts prompted by declining enrollment.

For the college, a teacher in the physics department, Brendan O’Neill, was let go because of weak student numbers. Lake Tahoe Unified School District went ahead with staff and course section reductions with 17.7 full-time equivalent teaching positions dropped.

“That basically means we won’t be offering physics in the fall (quarter),” said college President Guy Lease.

Lease said teaching positions have been decreased before because of diminishing grant money and non-flourishing programs but “this is really the first layoffs in my memory” from declining enrollment.

Other moves by the college to cover a targeted $350,000 is not refilling a music teacher’s position after retirement, expanding or creating unpaid furloughs for seven administrators and further reductions in support staff.

O’Neill said he recently purchased a house in Tahoe. It’s his first year teaching at Lake Tahoe Community College after spending four years at Riverside Community College.

He teaches high-end physic classes tied to calculus and trigonometry.

“I’m a first-year faculty (member) and I’m in a one-person department so they can cut me and save money because I can’t bump anybody,” he said. “It was sort of a convenient decision as opposed to one that was really good for the college I thought.”

Lease said the enrollment declines has affected its size ranking in the California Community College system. Two years ago its rank was fifth smallest; now its third smallest at 1,575 full-time equivalent students.

Within the Lake Tahoe Unified School District the staff reductions were anticipated because of a steady attrition in student numbers.

Superintendent James Tarwater believes the district will experience 200 students leaving by the time the school year is over, dropping enrollment to 4,350 students.

The staff cuts, including eight elementary teachers and an administrator, won’t cover the $1 million deficit caused by the student decrease, said Tarwater, who is banking on $500,000 one-time reserve money to help cover the financial hole rather than cutting programs.

Retirements and leaves of absence would help stem the layoffs, which need to be sent out to low-seniority teachers by March 15 per state law, but all-day kindergarten would help save at least four elementary jobs.

All-day kindergarten must be negotiated between the district and teachers union. No agreement has been made.

Denise Pillsbury thinks it’s a good idea. As a kindergarten teacher at Sierra House Elementary, Pillsbury said there is too much to instruct the children to sufficiently keep them up to state standards and educate them on behaving in the classroom.

In an example to illustrate the standards, Pillsbury displayed a kindergarten report card. Listed were “writes simple sentences correctly,” “identifies characters, settings, key events” and “reads 5-10 frequency words.” Topic headings on the report card included measurement and geography, mathematical reasoning, language arts and life/study skills.

Pillsbury, a first-year kindergarten teacher who was substituting last year, has heard kindergarten more resembles past first-grade requirements.

“(All-day kindergarten) is a brilliant idea and the time has come,” she said.

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