District Prepares to Close El Tejon School-4th and 5th Graders to Attend Frazier Park School for 2011-2012
By Pam Sturdevant and Patric Hedlund
Amid budget cuts and layoffs, funding for Frazier Mountain High School’s varsity sports program was restored by El Tejon Unified School District (ETUSD) trustees on June 29, after it had been cut at the June 15 meeting. Now, in an interview with The Mountain Enterprise on July 5, Superintendent Katie Kleier confirms that El Tejon School may be shuttered by 2012.
Students would be consolidated into Frazier Park School as a kindergarten through 6th grade school. Frazier Mountain High School would be used for 7th through 12th grades, Kleier said. The savings in transportation costs, utilities, maintenance and operations would be significant, Kleier said July 5. “That is what we will consider this year and create a plan to implement. Stakeholders’ comments and concerns could alter this,” she added in a note July 6.
The state’s failure to pay $670,000 in IOUs to the district and a drop of about $890,000 in revenue because of a loss of students (largely due to families following jobs out of state, Kleier says) is driving these cost-cutting measures.
‘Work Together’ has been the slogan for the past two months as teachers, parents and educational aides held tug-of-war debates over budget priorities in a time of declining enrollment. Kleier envisions that the slogan will take on new dimensions in the 2011-2012 school year.
“Coordination and curriculum articulation between classroom teachers across the district must grow,” Kleier said July 5, to prepare students for more rigorous academic challenges that will better prepare them for college opportunities. She also said that a $37,000 grant had been won by ETUSD to create vocational training opportunities for the El Tejon Continuation High School.
On June 29 the ETUSD board hired a new principal for Frazier Mountain High School, but the name has not yet been announced.
When the board went into public session, the conference room was packed full with teachers, bus drivers, instructional aides, custodians, parents and students. Every seat was filled. Many rose to speak in the call to the public. Teacher Sue Edwards spoke against filling empty administrative jobs, such as a vice principal for the high school: “As a teacher and a parent I do not want to give up my salary for a vice principal. I would be willing to take some cuts if I knew it was going to the students and teachers,” she said.
Library clerk Angela Witham spoke of hard decisions former superintendent Shelly Mason made, hiring one principal for both El Tejon and Frazier Park Schools. Witham asked: “Now with declining enrollment, why are we hiring more administrators when we are not seeing [parallel] cuts at the top?”
Chris Vaughn, a parent and FMHS Booster Club board member, pleaded to ‘Save our Kids’ and ‘Save our School.’ Booster volunteer and parent Kathy Pilgram said, “If we lose students due to lack of sports programs there could be a greater loss [of ADA revenue] for the district. We would like the administration to step up and work harder.”
“The board should be elated to see all these people,” said parent Gus Pivetti, indicating the packed seats in the board room. “You should respect the people who came here tonight. I want to keep my child in this school district but if sports are cut I will have to make other arrangements.”
“We need to know about the sports program,” parent and volunteer coach Jason Jens told the board, “If there aren’t going to be any, my daughter will not be going to this school.”
Teacher and coach Sharon Lemburg told of her fundraiser efforts for volleyball and how she will continue that effort.
El Tejon Teachers Association (ETTA) Representative Chris Pennella added that the El Tejon Continuation School serves only twelve students “but costs $125,000 a year to operate.” Teacher Chuck Mullen told the ETUSD Board: “Folks, you’ve got to do more. Give us hope.”
Kleier ran down a list of tough facts: “The budget will remain flat, with no new dollars expected,” she said. “We may expect mid-year cuts [by the state]. We may need to look at closing a school site. You may wonder ‘what site might you be closing?’ Nothing has been set in stone. These are just ideas. Frazier Park School could be K-6, with 7th-8th grade at Frazier Mountain High School, so there would be two school sites. What that means in savings and opportunities will have to be looked at more seriously. That is why it is in the best interest of this district to have multiple administrators for these sites,” she said.
Kleier hopes to hire one person to serve as a half-time vice principal, half-time counselor for the FMHS site. In the July 5 meeting with The Mountain Enterprise she explained possibly startling impacts on past FMHS students due to gaps in both counselor expertise and administrator oversight. She said the problems are being corrected [we will report more on this subject next week-Editor].
At the June 29 board meeting Kleier presented alternate scenarios to the budget approved at the June 15 meeting. “I have a new budget proposal tonight for you…which includes a possible use of contingency funds of $200,000 and a revenue limit adjustment [increase] of $171,890.” She said the revenue increase was due to discovery of a “notation error” in the initial budget.
Terri Geivet said that the $200,000 in reserves could be used this year to balance the budget and retain high school sports, “but don’t go any deeper” into the reserves, she warned. The remaining funds are encumbered for potential lawsuit settlements regarding employees and ETTA benefits.
Kleier presented three scenarios for the revised budget to the ETUSD Board, which included an estimate of the number of students per classroom under each scenario.
Trustees voted for the scenario that keeps the lowest number of students per classroom. Paula Regan voted to rehire two teachers and to receive no trustee stipend. Anita Anderson wished to keep her stipend and hire two teachers; Cathy Wallace voted for no stipend and two teachers; John Fleming voted to rehire two teachers and said it was the law to recieve stipends. Ken Hurst was not present. The decision to keep sports was unanimous.
For the first time many can remember, there was open discussion among trustees about the issues before a vote. They also invited more comment from members of the community who attended. Both these changes were welcomed by the public.
Trustee Cathy Wallace asked why some of the people were not smiling after the vote to keep varsity sports was passed. Classified employee Jeannie Gaffron said she was not smiling because there was no discussion of bringing back the teachers’ aides.
Before adjourning, Wallace and Paula Regan criticized The Mountain Enterprise for reporting “negative news.” They said that they work very hard to be prepared. “It hurts to keep being beaten down. If anyone would like to take this seat, they can have it,” Wallace said.
The Mountain Enterprise has published OpEds by members of the community and editorials calling for more creative leadership by the ETUSD board in this time of crisis. The newspaper has also reported problems at the high school that this board and earlier administrators allowed to linger for years without taking action.
Concern about misuse of ASB funds, for instance, were verified by audits conducted by the Kern County Superintendent of Schools. The community was told that recordkeeping had been so poor at the high school that no restoration of ASB funds could be calculated.
An ETUSD board meeting may be held July 13 at 7 p.m. at the district office conference room just north of El Tejon School in Lebec. Watch Breaking News at www.MountainEnterprise.com on Tuesday to confim whether the meeting will be held or cancelled.
This is part of the July 15, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
Have an opinion on this matter? We'd like to hear from you.