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"I hate this damn budget!" exclaimed ETUSD Fiscal Director Terri Geivet. She said it is a "liquid document" that can change if the California state budget problems get resolved and the cuts to the schools are rolled back.
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Parents applauded teachers and other parents who stood to object to over $200,000 being spent on hiring new administrators when the district has dropped to only 1066 students and $81,000 is being cut to eliminate the Frazier Mountain High School sports program, unless parents can find a way to independently finance that.
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Parents were deadly earnest: "You are sinking the ship" they told the trustees.
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Leonard Puga lost his job tonight. If he takes a job off the hill, and takes his children with him, the school district loses three students and over $18,000 in ADA revenue. "I will live in hope, and work to help keep our sports programs and trust that I will get my job back," Puga said.
"I hate this damn budget" said fiscal director Terri Geivet as she asked trustees for El Tejon Unified School District to vote for it. In a 3-1 vote, 25 people lost their jobs, the high school sports program was cut and money for two administrative spots currently empty was maintained. That did not please parents, students and staff.
Board Votes 3-1 to Jettison Sports, Teachers’ Aides (See Video report)
Says ‘Maybe Things Will Get Better’
By Patric Hedlund
“I hate this damn budget!” Terri Geivet, director of fiscal services for El Tejon Unified School District said heatedly before 95 members of the public, parents and teachers at a special meeting of the board on June 8.
“But the law says we have to pass something,” Geivet continued. “I submit this to you as the best we can do right now. This is a liquid document. It can change. If the governor changes his mind and gives us more money, then we can solve some of these problems.”
The district is losing over a million dollars because of a decline in enrollment, and about $349,000 because of decisions being made in Sacramento. About 150 students have left in one year.
The board also heard passionate pleas from parents and teachers to restore programs and services to students as an alternative to a budget that cuts instructional aides and sports while investing hundreds of thousands of dollars in administrators.
Teacher Chuck Mullen told the board that there is a recall movement at hand for board members who do not support the community’s request to postpone hiring two new administrators, bringing the total to five administrators at the same time that 19 classified employees are being laid off along with six more teachers, and enrollment continues to decline. The budget also cuts $81,000 from the sports programs at the high school. They also laid off the teacher, Charles Steward, who has maintained the competitive sports program at the El Tejon middle school for two years without funding, through personal fundraising.
Geivet said it is possible that $349,000 could be restored to the schools, of the more than $1.4 million that the district expects to lose next year.
“And we can solve a lot of problems with $349,000,” Geivet added, “But then the board will have to tell me which of the problems they want to solve. Do you want to put the aides back in classrooms? Cut the class sizes from 32 or 37 kids in a class by rehiring teachers? Restore the sports programs? Offer music and art and crafts? What are the priorities?”
There was no discussion between members of the board about the requests made by the community to restore the sports programs and to wait on filling administrator jobs. The high school principal has been laid off and was put on administrative leave two weeks before the end of the school year. The high school vice principal position is also vacant. Superintendent Katie Kleier has been advertising to fill those positions.
Trustee Anita Anderson said she hoped that some in the audience of about 90 people would run for the school board themselves. “You’ll find that not everything is black and white,” she said. Trustee Ken Hurst said he was hoping that there would be better news at special meetings of the board set for June 29 and July 19, after the state budget may be more defined.
ETUSD board President John Fleming said that the state legislature did not pass a budget by their legal deadline, but that the school board does not have the same luxury. “I don’t think we can put off voting on this,” Fleming said. Trustee Paula Regan said nothing. Trustee Cathy Wallace did not attend the meeting.
No board members replied to the community argument that the cuts need to be made at the top, rather than in the classroom and on the sports field. There was no public deliberation. No trustee explained the reasoning behind their support of the allocation to hire administrators rather than restore teacher’s aides. No one took the position that they should talk out that choice in front of the people who had come to hear their reasoning. [Trustee Ken Hurst submitted a comment, on June 12. The Mountain Enterprise has published an editorial about urgent commmunity concerns.]
When the proposal to vote whether to accept the budget was called, over half of the room could not hear the votes. A loud air conditioning system had been turned on, there is no public address system in the room and the board members spoke very softly. Paula Regan mumbled into her hand.
Fleming announced, “Okay, it’s 3 ayes and 1 nay.”
People in the back of the room said “What? Who voted nay?” The Mountain Enterprise reporter asked, “Excuse me, who voted ‘nay’?” Superintendent Kleier said, “You can’t speak out like that, you can call the office tomorrow to find out.”
John Fleming did reply that Regan was the ‘nay’ vote. That would mean that Ken Hurst, Anita Anderson and John Fleming voted ‘aye’ for the budget as presented.
There were numerous students in the room who gathered outside after the meeting. They said they are already visiting other schools, looking into sports programs, honors classes and clubs they can attend elsewhere.
Parent Michelle Penner, who is also a kindergarten teacher, said that “seeking a CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) hardship transfer” for student athletes takes time. “Parents can’t afford to wait,” she said.
Leonard Puga, a father of three student athletes also lost his job with the school as one of the 19 classified employees who was released. He said he does not feel that leaving is the right thing to do. His departure, with his children, would cost the district above $20,000 in lost ADA revenue.
“To leave now will maybe make another one leave, and then two more, and then four. We need to stay here and work together and live in hope.” He said.
Puga added that he has a job offer elsewhere, but that he will wait until the June 29 and July 19 meetings to see if things may improve.
Puga and his family are among those who raised $1,500 on June 4 in a Booster Club car wash organized by student athlete Antonio Saenz. There is a spirited drive to fund sports, cheer team and drumline programs through community donations and corporate sponsorships. A consortium of mentors in the arts is also gathering to volunteer services for the coming school year to help retain students.
The Mountain Enterprise is publishing a weekly Booster Line column to keep the public updated about fundraising progress. We’ll also report on Superintendent Kleier’s progress in obtaining a PA system for the district boardroom so the intent of California’s Ralph M. Brown Act guaranteeing open meetings can be fulfilled next time the board of trustees meets. Under the law, it is the obligation of the trustees to deliberate and vote on issues of concern to their community in front of the people who elected them, so their deliberations and votes can be both seen and heard.
This is part of the June 24, 2011 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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