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School district plans personnel cuts

SHERRY MAYS

The school board unanimously adopted a 1998-99 budget of $33,428,000 – a budget that will eliminate jobs and crowd classrooms at the elementary school level.

“I hate this budget,” said Tahoe-Truckee Unified School District boardmember Suzanne Prouty at Tuesday night’s special budget meeting. “There is no flexibility.”

Prouty and other boardmembers said although their goal to provide teachers with fair and equitable salary increases was met, reallocating funds was difficult – resulting in major changes from last year.

The changes include eliminating five elementary school teacher positions, one secondary school teacher position and one-and-one half certificated administrator positions. Measure S allocations will decrease from $65 to $48 per student, no additional funding will be supplied for kindergarten through eighth grades, and funding for high school instructional materials will decrease from $40 to $3.

Although this general funding is derived from revenues generated by enrollment, the boardmembers said they are hopeful that the governor’s budget will provide for additional funding.

Boardmember Karen Van Epps said the salary increases were important to help the teachers, which in turn helps the students, but by not hiring teachers at the elementary school level students will be impacted negatively.

“We aren’t laying anyone off,” she said. “We just aren’t hiring our temporary teachers. This is going to overload those classes and will make it more difficult for those students to learn. That will have long-term effects on those students.”

Truckee Elementary, Kings Beach and Rideout Elementary schools will be affected by the teacher cuts. Van Epps said portables have already changed schools like Truckee Elementary, forcing more students into smaller spaces afforded by the portables. Overcrowding is forcing fourth- and fifth-graders into “combo” classes at the three sites, where teachers agreed to teach classes simultaneously, keeping the numbers of students to a maximum of 33.

“The board should really look at overloading (students) at the high school level,” she said. “The students are more mature and can handle the alternatives. The elementary students have too much to lose. If they struggle with fourth and fifth grade and have a hard time transitioning into the middle school, they will have difficulties until they graduate as seniors.”

An alternative discussed by the board was eliminating three vocational education teaching positions vacated by retiring employees, something that board President John Wojcik said would by highly detrimental to the students close to graduation.

“We would have to adjust the entire graduation requirements for students pursuing vocational ed,” he said. “We can’t just eliminate these classes.”

Van Epps agreed, adding that short-term effects should be looked into before decisions are made that will have long-term student effects.

“If we hit the elementary schools first, we will be performing crisis management at the high school level,” she said.

TTUSD Superintendent Vince Deveney said cutting other positions on the high school level will result in parent and student outrage.

“If you cut jobs there will be teachers and parents lining the room,” he said.

Wojcik said parent and teacher input is what was needed Tuesday night.

“We need input on the planning and public comment level,” he said. “Where is the interest from the public and teachers when it is truly needed. This would have been the perfect time.”

Van Epps said she too was disappointed in the turnout of only six people at the meeting.

“I’m disappointed that there wasn’t more parent and teacher representation at the meeting,” she said. “This was the time and place for the room to be packed. Teachers are in the schools daily and know the day-to-day needs of our students.”

Better communication between the public and the district is being sought by Van Epps, who said that now that the budget is set, her next priority will be to organize a budget review committee that will work year-round on district needs.

“I have a really hard time with accountability and the follow-through with the board,” she said. “I find it difficult to make decisions without all of the research.”

One way Prouty and Van Epps said public interests and information could be better disseminated is through a public relations and grant writing position that was vacated by Laura Brown and not scheduled for restaffing.

“We are a large business,” Prouty said. “I think it is important to have a public relations position to take care of getting out information to the community. I think we have learned from the bond’s defeat.”

Van Epps said she agrees that a full-time grant writer and community liaison could potentially bring in up to $1 million per year, but said a comment made by boardmember Nancy O’Neill about the obligations attached to bonds could outweigh the grant’s financial benefits.

Van Epps said she would recommend long-term strategic planning at last night’s regular board meeting.

“We need to know what our vision is and how we are going to get there,” she said. “We need to keep our vision consistent because we have board elections coming up and a new superintendent coming on line in August.”

She said in addition to discussing a better budget process, she was planning to emphasize the positive steps taken in 1997-98, such as the teacher and employee negotiations. She said she would put her energies into reinstating teachers when the governor’s budget is passed, allocating additional discretionary funds.

At last night’s meeting the following was agendized:

— A proposal and to the California School Employees Association for salary increases similar to the Tahoe-Truckee Education Association’s agreement.

— Approval for 1998-99 site plans for Truckee Elementary, Donner Trail, Glenshire Elementary and North Tahoe schools.

— A discussion about the costs for district bus transportation.

— Agreement with the Tahoe City Parks and Recreation Department for the use of the Tahoe Lake Elementary School parking lot for a skateboard park.

— Discuss the interim implementation of Proposition 227, the measure to that prohibits bilingual education from being taught in the elementary and middle schools.

Sierra Sun E-mail: sun@tahoe.com

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