Audience protests job cuts, programs at school meeting

By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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More than 125 parents and school district staff packed the Lincoln High School theater on Tuesday night to show their concern over potential budget cuts. The district is faced with making $5.75 million in budget cuts for the 2012-2013 school year, according to Western Placer Unified School District Assistant Superintendent of Business Joyce Lopes. The board will vote Feb. 21 on the proposed budget reductions, Lopes said. During Tuesday’s meeting, the board was presented a list of proposed budget reductions for the next fiscal year. “This is a very difficult day for our district,” Lopes said. “Here at our district, we tried to take a balanced approach and used reserves over the past several years. Today, unfortunately, we are faced with the need to make $5.75 million in cuts.” Proposed cuts include cutting personnel, according to Western Placer Unified School District Superintendent Scott Leaman. Cuts to personnel include three teaching positions at Lincoln High School for a total of $151,875; two teaching positions at each middle school totaling $202,500; and 12 elementary school positions totaling $607,500, according to Leaman. Other proposed budget reductions involving personnel include reducing one middle school counselor position for savings of $93,500; the elimination of health clerks for savings of $130,000; and cutting kindergarten aides in classrooms that have two teachers for savings of $88,000, according to Leaman. The district is also proposing eight furlough days for a savings of $1.4 million, according to Leaman. That’s four more furlough days than this school year. “I feel that our district did things right. We tried to hold onto programs and personnel as long as we could,” Leaman said. “At the end of the day, reserves have dried up at this point. To ensure the financial stability of the district, we will have to make these cuts.” Prior to Leaman’s presentation of the proposed budget reductions, the representatives for the district’s two labor groups provided comments. “It is important to acknowledge that this budget crisis was not caused by anyone in this room,” said Mike Agrippino, president of the Western Placer Teacher’s Association. “It was born out of a recession with murky origins and then by a political climate willing to sacrifice the education of a whole generation of students for a political agenda.” Agrippino said he “believes our students are not going to be denied a quality education” since “the people of our district care about our students.” “So, as you consider cuts in the coming weeks, I ask you to remember the people at the sites that the students need the most,” Agrippino said. “When you look at these proposed cuts, remember that you are not looking at positions or dollars but people’s lives, including our students.” Mike Kimbrough, the Western Placer Classified Employee Association president, said the “proposed reductions would change how our district operates and how our district functions.” Kimbrough said cuts to kindergarten aides would “affect children at a critical learning stage” and questioned who would do the job of health clerks. Health clerks, he said, “administer feeding tubes and epinephrine pens.” “I appreciate the fact that the district has tried to have the budget reductions in a timely manner,” Kimbrough said. Both labor representatives were met with applause when they were done speaking. A number of parents, district staff and students addressed the school board during public comment. Several students and teachers from the district’s adult-education program spoke. The district has proposed eliminating the program, which includes GED classes and English as a Second Language (ESL) classes. Ramey Dern, an ESL instructor, said the classes have a “trickle effect” for students. “If adult students learn English, they will be able to help their children graduate,” Dern said. “Our students are hoping to get ahead in life and get better jobs. They go from ESL to the GED classes, then to college.” Dern called the elimination of adult education “a very sad thing for the community.” Eliazer Lazaro, an ESL student, asked the board to “support our education.” “We need to be educated in this community and we need English to help our students with their homework and we need it for jobs,” Lazaro said. “Please keep this education program.” The elimination of health clerks was also a hot topic for speakers. “I see on a daily basis what health clerks do,” said Sandra Hackbarth, a Twelve Bridges Elementary School secretary. “CPR and first aid are a miniscule amount of what they do.” According to the job description for a health clerk, duties include distributing medication to students, assisting with medical emergencies on campus and performing head-lice checks. “They (health clerks) are truly, truly important,” Hackbarth said. “They do more than put on band-aids.” Parent Rachel McNeel-Caird told the board that health clerks provide parents with information about health issues such as head lice and chicken pox. “In a time when attendance is so important for funding, health clerks are extra important (because) they keep students at school longer,” McNeel-Caird said. “They’re important for the safety of my children.” Terry Swaggerty, husband of a Carlin C. Coppin teacher who is slated to be laid off, suggested district employees take a salary reduction to prevent layoffs. “If this is about the kids, why are we letting teachers go?” Swaggerty said. “Why can’t we look at a five to 10 percent salary cut?” The News Messenger asked Leaman after the meeting if the district had considered salary concessions for district employees. Leaman said employee salaries are a “negotiable item,” which can’t be discussed outside of the negotiating table. “It’s not a bad idea,” Leaman said. “Next time we’re at the table, I might talk to them (labor representatives) about that.” Prior to the meeting’s end, board members talked about the proposed reductions. “Related to the cuts before us, none of us have made up our mind on what cuts we will support,” board member Paul Carras said. “We have uniformly said we don’t want to lay people off.” Board member Kris Wyatt told the audience, “I appreciate your compassion.” Brian Haley, another board member, said “everyone who spoke was eloquent.” “Their arguments made it hard to listen to,” Haley said. “None of us wants to do any of this. We will go back and think about this, and hope to come up with ideas that aren’t quite as painful but we do have to make these cuts.” Board president Damian Armitage said he doesn’t “want to lose any teachers or health clerks.”