Parents and teachers defend programs at school board meeting

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Lincoln High School teachers and students at Tuesday’s school board meeting pleaded with the board to spare their programs from the budget ax. Cynthia Hagman’s students read excerpts from her Philosophy of Music Education before singing “Earth Song” at the Western Placer Unified School District meeting’s featured school. Choir students also spoke during the public comment period. “Entrance into choir changed my outlook on school,” Rose Stearns said. “I didn’t like school and my grades were not great. I was reluctant to join choir. As soon as I joined, I got excited because it was so much fun. My grades improved. It’s like a big family and it’s opened a lot of doors. I feel better about myself.” Junior Emily Solorzano said going to choir is the highlight of her day, next to wrestling. “I sing two periods and I’m a section leader,” she said. “I have an amazing teacher. Please don’t cut choir.” Nine students gave testimonies about how the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) class changed the course of their school career. Co-coordinator Sylvia Ward described AVID as a class in which students are taught study skills through high school to help them achieve acceptance into a four-year university. Students must go through an interview process to be accepted into the class. Sophomore Anthony Martucci said AVID helped him organize his work and balance football and school. He said he went from a 3.2 to a 4.0 grade point average. “AVID pushed me to take harder classes,” he said. “I was looking at going to a J.C. This has helped me learn about scholarships and grants. My dream school is UCLA.” Graciela Torres said AVID helped her believe in herself and push herself to achieve. She hopes to be the first in her family to graduate Lincoln High School and a four-year college. Neither of her parents speaks English. “I’ve applied to five CSUs and plan to major in Spanish,” she said. “I want to be a translator.” The music and AVID programs are not specifically listed in the budget reduction proposals presented to the Western Placer Unified School District board Tuesday night by Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Joyce Lopes. Lopes said the cuts the district faces will likely affect employees and programs. No action was taken Tuesday night. The final budget reduction recommendations will be presented to the board at its Feb. 21 meeting. The district is targeting $5.75 million in reductions for 2012-13. The superintendent’s specific budget reduction recommendations total $3.8 million. District officials are hoping to address the remaining $1.95 million through negotiated reductions, layoffs or other specific reductions. Of the 20 options recommended, the largest proposed budget reduction calls for district employees to take eight furlough days, which Lopes said amounts to a 4 percent pay cut. The potential savings amounts to $1.467 million. “It’s going to be tough, no matter what,” board Vice President Kris Wyatt said. “Eight days is a lot,” trustee Brian Haley said. The school district’s Superintendent Scott Leaman said requiring employees to take eight furlough days would result in five days of instruction deleted from the school year. He also said the furlough days would have to be aligned between the certificated and classified staff. Other recommendations include eliminating the school resource officer position for a savings of $140,000, cutting the computer replacement fund by $100,000, a categorical sweep of funds to save $888,881, cutting outside consultant use by $75,000 and counting the $750,000 wetland reserve as part of the reserve for economic uncertainty. The wetland reserve would be placed back into the 2013-14 budget. Lopes said another factor to consider in the district’s 2012-13 budget is Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal, which is predicated on voter approval of a November 2012 ballot measure implementing new temporary taxes. If the measure is approved, K-12 funding will only be cut by the transportation allocation, or $335,000, for the school district. If the measure fails, the district will have to make an additional $2.3 million in cuts. The audience let out a collective “oooh” in response to the possibility of further cuts. Western Placer Teachers Association representative Mike Agrippino said the teachers “are painfully aware” how much of the budget is based on concessions. “The collaboration between the district office and the teachers has come a long way in the last five years,” he said. “Behind the budget are a lot of people and lives that could be deeply affected. We need to travel this road together. We may not agree on some of the proposals, but the association pledges to be honest and sincere.”