Another Half Million Dollars Just Walked Out the Door

School District Mum on How it Plans to Educate as 93 Students Exit and 11 Teachers Are ‘Pinked’

By Patric Hedlund

For a small rural school district, 93 is a big number. That is almost 10 percent of the students now served by the El Tejon Unified School District’s five schools. As of February 1 this year, ETUSD serves 985 students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

At the February 8 board meeting, ETUSD trustees and 40 members of the public were told that 93 students didn’t show up for classes this school year. About $558,000 in revenue from the state (‘ADA,’ estimated at about $6,000 per student for 2012) vanished with them. Last year 150 students left. That was $1,005,000 in ADA dropped out of the budget (at $6,700 per student, estimated in 2011 according to ETUSD officials). So, over the past two years, an estimated $1.63 million needed to run our local schools has been lost from ETUSD because local parents have either moved away or decided to educate their children in a different way.

Flashback to Last Year

Last year, in March 2011, the board announced they had voted to give layoff notices to 9.5 teachers, followed by layoff of 19 support staff in May—including all the teachers’ classroom aides. In June 2011 the ETUSD Board of Trustees voted to eliminate the interscholastic sports program. That woke the slumbering population.

Teachers were demonstrating on street corners, wearing T-shirts with the slogan “Work Together.” Attendance at board meetings was consistently hovering at between 90 and 100 parents, students and staff.

The community did work together. Volunteer coaches stepped up. Parents organized car pools to replace expensive school buses for interscholastic sports meets. They reached into their pockets to contribute more than $40,000 by the end of the first semester to keep sports alive.

The teachers took the district into administrative appeals and all but 2.5 teaching positions were restored. The classroom aides were not so lucky, but 13 of 19 support staff were brought back, most in different jobs. Overall, according to figures from ETUSD Superintendent Katie Kleier, only 8.5 layoffs actually occurred last year out of 31 pink slips issued.

Last Week

Last week, 11 more pink slips were issued to ETUSD teachers. Eight of those were from the high school, which has a staff of only 16 teachers, serving 347 students. The teaching positions the ETUSD Board of Trustees voted to eliminate cover several subjects which are required under state law to be taught at the high school level.

Under Education Code Section 51220, English, Social Sciences (including History and Geography), Art, Foreign Language and Applied Arts (such as Agriculture) are required to be offered from grade 7 through grade 12.

The teaching positions covering all these subjects were proposed to be eliminated from Frazier Mountain High School during an illegal closed ETUSD executive board meeting February 1, and then again in a February 8 “replay” at which there was no discussion by the superintendent or members of the board of trustees about how the educational mission of the high school will be fulfilled if half the teachers are indeed laid off.

What’s the Plan?

On February 16 The Mountain Enterprise sent a request for a meeting with the principal and vice principal of the high school along with Superintendent Katie Kleier.

“The subject is your vision for how the high school next year will comply with the law and educate students if the ‘worst case scenario’ teacher layoff notices issued this week are actually implemented at FMHS,” we said.

FMHS Principal Saba replied: “This is not something we’re able to do without Mrs. Kleier’s permission.” Kleier replied: “It would be inappropriate for us to discuss a plan with you before we have discussed this with the Board.” and “We are planning for the worst and hoping for the best.”

Paula Regan, president of the ETUSD Board, refused to comment, referring all questions back to the superintendent. The superintendent said she is unavailable.

Editorial: ETUSD—Where’s the Plan?

There could not be a more beautiful little school setting in America in which to build an excellent learning community than the El Tejon Unified School District. This is a gem, blessed with inspiring natural surroundings and bright children who are receptive to mentors who have a plan and show the excitement of knowing something worth learning.

The success of the Pine Mountain Learning Center is a local beacon to provide confidence to those who wonder whether there is a future for public education here.

It is mystifying, therefore, in the midst of a crisis that has persisted for over two years, that no bold leadership has emerged from the ETUSD Board of Trustees.

This school district has a marketing problem. It is not inspiring confidence in its parents, students and community. What is the vision for where we are going and how we are going to get there?

As inept as the leadership in Sacramento has been, more than 50 percent of the monetary loss that the El Tejon Unified School District is suffering is a result of losing students. This cannot all be attributed to economic dislocation of families.

During this same time, Gorman Elementary School has doubled in size and homeschooling charters are becoming more popular on the mountain.

Brad Oliver’s two children, for example, are being homeschooled now. They still live in Cuddy Creek. The two children of Peter and Michelle Kjenaas, from Lake of the Woods, are also homeschooled now. Another prominent couple of Piñon Pines also homeschool two children. Between just these three families, over $76,000 has been lost to the ETUSD public school system over the past two years—not to mention the inspiring talents of these parents and their children. They could bring much to the school peer environment.

Sacramento legislators may be despicable, but this is a moment when it is what we are doing— or not doing—right here at home that has the most significant impact on the future wellbeing of our schools.

It appears the board voted to dismiss 11 teachers without asking for a plan for how students are going to be taught. That is reckless. It defies logic that an oversight board would do that.

The administration and board have failed to provide confidence to the community that there is a plan for getting through the tough challenges of this moment. In that vacuum, it is not surprising that destructive theories are being raised throughout the community, about the possible closing of the high school.

Four positions are opening up this year on the school board.

In the meantime, this board and this superintendent owe this community a plan—now—to reignite enthusiasm, commitment and most of all, trust.

This is part of the February 24, 2012 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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