School board meeting covers CAG awards, budget reductions

By: Carol Percy, Reporter Lincoln News Messenger
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Two topics dominated Tuesday’s Western Placer Unified School District meeting: the California Association of the Gifted (CAG) award and district budget reductions.

Dr. Barbara Branch, the California Association of the Gifted executive director, presented Western Placer Unified School District’s Deputy Superintendent Mary Boyle with the CAG award which recognizes school districts with exemplary Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) programs.

Western Placer Unified School District was one of four programs in the state of California chosen for the award. Boyle was presented with the award for the first time during the CAG annual conference held Feb. 15 to 17 in Anaheim. The award was for kindergarten through eighth-grades.

Branch said that the California Association of the Gifted has supported gifted education in California for more than 51 years.

“Through Mary’s effort, you have a wonderful GATE program,” Branch said.

Over the past seven years, the Western Placer Unified School District has expanded its GATE programs to include district centralized magnet academy programs and site-decentralized cluster classrooms, according to Boyle.

The district’s magnet academy programs are the Elementary Academy at First Street School and the Performing Arts Academy at Glen Edwards Middle School. Students identified as GATE or High Achiever (HA) are permitted to enroll in these programs.

Currently, 409 students have been identified for the GATE program, Boyle said.

In recent years due to budget cuts, Boyle said, GATE funds (about $39,000/year or less than $100 per GATE student) have disappeared, “yet the programs have continued due to the district’s previous investment in GATE teaching staff.”

At the high school level, nine Advanced Placement (AP) classes are now offered at Lincoln High School, with an additional eight classes available online. Beginning in the fall, Lincoln High School will offer three new classes, including AP Music Theory, AP United States Government and Politics, and AP Microeconomics.


Teachers Voiced Concerns about Impending Budget Cuts and Lay-offs

Of the 60-plus audience members at Tuesday’s meeting, many attended in support of Western Placer Unified School District teachers and staff.

Several teachers addressed the board.

Jessica Armistead, an agricultural-science teacher at Lincoln High School, spoke about “how troubled” she was over proposed budget cuts.

Armistead said she was a 2005 graduate of Lincoln High School and “had always dreamed of teaching” at her alma mater. She told how much she loved her job teaching at a 409-acre farm. Last year, Armistead’s job was reduced to part-time. She “fears being laid off and having to leave Lincoln High School.”

Donna Griesmer, a Lincoln High Spanish teacher, talked about how hard the impending lay-offs

are on teaching staff.

“They have to go to work every day and put on a cheerful face for their students, worrying about losing their jobs. That’s commendable, that’s not lay-off-able,” Griesmer said.

With the district facing massive budget cuts, the question isn’t if teachers and staff will be laid off, but how many and who. The district discussed criteria for lay-offs which included how many degrees and/or certifications an employee might hold. The district website noted that it “anticipates another $6.5 million in cuts for 2013 -14 in order to achieve a balanced budget.”

Board member Paul Carras responded to teachers voicing their concerns about budget cuts by saying that negotiations are continuing between the district and the teachers’ union.

“Let’s work together. We’ve got a great district and we need to hold onto that and not let people go,” Carras said.

Superintendent Scott Leaman said that the district has met five times since December and that budget reductions are continuing to be discussed.

“We’ve worked this out before and we can work it out again,” Leaman said.