Thursday, May 8, 2008

OUSD Whittles Away At Budget

Schools face process of elimination trying to cut expenses by $1.7 million

By Sondra Murphy
While our state representatives are still arguing over California’s priorities, Ojai Unified School District board members and administrators are knee deep in hard choices. The crowds of concerned parents and staff have thinned to about 75 per meeting, but that number is very vocal.
It was a full agenda at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the OUSD board, but the budget hovered over every item. Board members whittled another $122,000 from the revised projected deficit of $1.7 million by reluctantly eliminating elementary school physical education instructors next year. The total OUSD budget is about $25 million annually.
Elementary teachers use the P.E. period as preparation time. The loss of P.E. specialists not only impacts that preparation time, but adds another subject that the teachers must organize for in order to meet state standards.
The board also officially eliminated district-supported classified jobs or cut hours from existing positions as agreed upon at the last meeting. Eliminated from the district office are one eight-hour staff secretary, one eight-hour grounds maintenance worker and four five-hour bus driver positions. Historically, OUSD has been able to transport students who live outside of the official busing boundaries, but this funding squeeze is forcing the district to adhere to those confines.
Elementary school cuts affecting personnel that were agreed to at the last meeting were officially adopted. Meiners Oaks, Mira Monte and Topa Topa will each see a school support secretary’s hours fall from five to three-and-a-half each day. All five elementary schools, including San Antonio and Summit, will lose one hour per day from their library media technician hours. Additionally, Mira Monte will lose two instructional assistants and one instructional aide who each work less than three hours per day.
Districtwide, 17 teachers are still on layoff notice. Originally, 30 were noticed in March, but resignations and leaves of absence have bumped the number down. “If we were just dealing with declining enrollment, that number would be five or six,” said superintendent Tim Baird.
“It’s the odd coincidence that occurs every year that sets aside next week as teacher awareness week and the following as classified employee week at the same time as we announce our layoffs,” said board President Steve Fields as he introduced two resolutions recognizing those populations and the contributions they make to the district. “It’s important that we recognize our teachers.”
“Our classified employees work very hard out there and deserve recognition as well,” added Baird. He reminded the board that program and job cuts made now may be rescinded later if actual funding is higher than projected funding.
Teachers, classified employees and parents addressed the board with compelling requests and suggestions on how to save money with the least impact. Of interest to the board was re-evaluating transportation expenditures and looking into ways to compensate for special education revenue cuts.
Ojai Education Foundation President Mike Caldwell told the board that the Save Ojai Schools campaign has generated few donations since the April 20 kick-off rally, but he was hopeful that money would be coming in from their continued efforts. Baird said that some SOS donations have been given to school sites and the board should see some of those figures presented by the next meeting.
Parents from Summit School have already procured the $30,000 needed to keep that school operating next year. Tabled until the receipt of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s revised budget due May 14 and updates on fund-raising efforts is the closure of a large or medium elementary school, which need $300,000 or $133,000, respectively, to remain open.
Board member Pauline Mercado commented that she was uncomfortable with the recommended cuts being “carried on the backs of students.”
“We’re not going to show you good stuff, necessarily,” said Baird. “They’re all sort of harmful.” Mercado later said she hoped the revised state budget would bring some good news.
OUSD has acquired much practice in creative funding during the past eight declining enrollment years and continues to look for ways to save money or generate revenues. A modified elementary schedule that would create half-day Wednesdays while lengthening the other four days is getting some attention, but Meiners Oaks teacher Laura Hanrieder drew attention to the many hours some children may be unsupervised after school should such a change take place.
Another project under development is to create stricter off-campus lunch privileges at the high school. Though motivated as a citizenship and academic incentive, the possible fiscal advantage of more students on campus during lunch possibly resulting in increased cafeteria sales has been a subject of some board deliberation. While the board investigated a closed-campus policy earlier in the year, Nordhoff staff is not in favor of such a change.
Assistant superintendent of business and administrative services Dannielle Pusatere has been critically looking into ways to increase revenues. She applied for a California Department of Education Attendance Waiver in April, gaining $12,000 in lost ADA from high absenteeism in February due to a flu epidemic. Pusatere has also increased facilities use fees, such as those received from summer use of Nordhoff’s pool.
Board member Kathi Smith half-joked that they should charge for off-campus permits to qualifying students, as well as for any excess parking spots at the high school. The board is seriously considering charging for bus transportation, however, and trying to decide if they should put time and effort toward a parcel tax ballot item to help stabilize revenues. OUSD is also visiting the concept of leasing the district office site for income, but such a project will not help this year.
A special OUSD board meeting will take place May 27 at 6 p.m. at a location still to be determined. Of primary focus will be Gov. Schwarzenegger’s revised budget proposal for the next fiscal year.

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