Staff feels left in the dark by administration
MARKLEEVILLE – Rita Lovell was perhaps one of the most surprised of five Alpine County Unified School District staff members who received their “intent” to layoff notices after a special board meeting last week.
After serving as a substitute teacher and teaching full time for three years at the small kindergarten-through-eighth-grade Markleeville school while working toward her master’s degree, Lovell thought her future was set.
In California it is mandatory to give district staff notice by March 15 if there is any chance they will not be coming back the next year.
However, after comparing her notice to the four others’, Lovell discovered that on hers and principal Katy Hadley’s notice, the word “intent” had been left off.
“In so many words I was told that it was (my final notice),” said Lovell. “But, officially, I won’t know until May.”
District superintendent Jim Parsons said if the layoffs happen it’s because of declining enrollment (down from 130 to 87 in the last few years) and a $240,000 budget deficit. The budget won’t be complete until April and the final decision on layoffs won’t be made until a May 15 board meeting.
“All the letters read as though they are laid off,” said Parsons. “It’s conceivable that nobody will get laid off. No final decision has been made on anybody.
“Really, nothing else is going to happen until April when we go over the budget.”
Lovell said she thinks she may be able to keep her job by becoming a classified worker instead of a certificated teacher, a position that would pay considerably less. This disappointed her, since her master’s degree should be completed within a year and she wants to stay working in the small town community she lives in.
Lovell has been working as a sixth- through-eighth-grade Spanish and technology teacher as well as serving as the library/media person.
What bothers her the most, she said, is how the school board leaves the teachers and others involved out of the decision-making process.
“The whole issue is that we are left in the dark,” said Lovell. “There is a serious lack of trust. We’re trying to protect the interest of the kids.”
Joe Voss, a district teacher at Woodfords High School and member of the Alpine County Teachers Association, said he had no knowledge of the upcoming intents to layoff.
“They’ve been working on this for a while,” said Voss. “In a negotiation meeting in February we asked the district what their layoff plans were – they said they didn’t have any at this time.”
However, Parsons said that he met with the Diamond Valley School staff on Jan. 20. “(We met) to explain the latest developments in the state budget and loss of enrollment and told them that layoffs were a probability,” said Parsons in a letter.
Lovell’s husband, Andy Lovell, is a member of the Alpine County School District Site Council, a state-mandated group of parents and teachers that meet to distribute funds.
Up until now, Andy Lovell said he has been afraid to speak up because of the fear his wife could lose her teaching position.
“It was never brought up to us that something was coming up,” he said.
Andy Lovell said at the site council meeting on Jan. 20, Parsons asked the council for $60,000 to increase an after-school program from 11Ú2 to four hours. Although the shorter program is required, the longer one was not.
He admitted that Parsons had been hinting at budget problems for about two years, but nothing definite had ever been presented to the council.
“He said that whether we approved this, either way there were some people at risk,” Lovell said. “But, he never asked us for money to prevent any layoffs.
“Nothing’s clear. He doesn’t really tell us what’s going on.”
Lovell said the council eventually approved $70,000 for the new after-school position, but that a person had already been hired. He wondered why this position was not being considered for elimination, when others who have worked there longer received their notices.
“(Parsons) said he was getting rid of people because of seniority,” said Andy. “The $60,000 would have retained two of the teachers.”
“I’m just a dad,” he said, “but even when you don’t know every fact, you know when you’re being manipulated.”
Also at issue is $700,000 the school district loaned the Alpine County Office of Education in order to help purchase the Early Learning Center in Woodfords in October 2003.
According to Parsons, the money came from one-time funds, not from ongoing monies that are used to pay teachers’ salaries.
The private school was purchased for less than it would have cost to build a school, at $1.2 million Parsons said. The Office of Education used $500,000 it had accumulated in a contingency fund along with the $700,000. The First 5 Commission spent $500,000 to remodel the building.
The county is now making monthly payments at 5 percent interest for the next 15 years, a higher rate than what it was making before, Parsons said.
Parsons said in prior years the district was using contingency monies to pay for teachers’ salaries, but with declining enrollment and a classroom ratio of 14-1, he couldn’t justify it any longer.
“How far do we spend down our one-time contingency fund until people get laid off?” asked Parsons.
Parsons said he is not sure how much is in the contingency fund now, but will know more after budget meetings in April. This fund is necessary for emergencies, such as a boiler that is going out at a Bear Valley school.
“We will still have disagreements,” he said. “We will still have people who think we should use contingency funds for paying teaching salaries.
“It’s complicated and leaves room for all kinds of interpretations.”
The principal, first-grade teacher Robin McCully, Lovell, American Indian Education reading program instructor Deirdre Wallace and Bear Valley High School teacher Stephanie Brown received notices.
A library assistant, the school nurse and a disciplinary aide were already let go this school year.
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