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Valley Forum: Cuts must start at the district office

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We are past and present Sonoma Valley Unified School District teachers and longtime residents, and we are gravely concerned about some decisions our school district management is about to make. Their decisions will have a drastic impact on our classrooms and disrupt our ability to do the best job we can as educators.

Next year our school district needs to cut $2.5 million from the budget, and more cuts are expected to be necessary in years to come. Some of the reasons our district is in the red could have been avoided by careful analysis of expenditures, more prudent spending and looking forward to the predictable and steady rise in benefits for all district staff. The district could have planned ahead better with the information they had.

Sadly, they didn’t, and now we have to fix this mess.

In January, the district management stated they were cutting 3.4 administrators, one of which would be from the district office staff. It turns out that the district office “administration” position they planned to cut was in fact not an administrator, but a “Teacher on Special Assignment” or TOSA. This is a teacher who works at the district office and is paid the salary of a teacher, not the salary of an administrator. This is not an administrator.

We have been told that it was announced internally that the district management is not planning to cut any positions at the district office. The plan would then be to to cut 23 teacher positions (counting the TOSA position) and 2.4 Vice Principal positions.

All of these cuts would have a direct and profoundly negative effect on classrooms and students. The district is in a difficult position and must make cuts. Everyone agrees on this.

The public, parents and teachers have asked the district management to make the cuts as far away from the classrooms as possible. At the February meeting of the School Board, Helen Marsh, a former Trustee, told the School Board and the other attendees that no matter how painful cuts are, the cuts must start at the District Office.

The district management plans to do the exact opposite. It seems they have decided that having elementary students in combination grade classes, increasing class size to the maximum allowable, cutting the full-time middle school vice principals to half time, and eliminating a high school vice principal is the best solution.

At the February School Board meeting, the Valley of the Moon Teachers Association took the extraordinary step of identifying three fairly new administrative positions that could be cut from the budget without directly affecting students.

We hoped that the district leadership would consider cutting at least some of the district office administrators. If the three administration positions VMTA suggested were eliminated, the savings in cost would allow our district to keep almost seven new teachers!

We are disappointed that our suggestion seems not to have been taken seriously.

We understand that making any cuts is personally difficult for the people who must make the cuts. It is a terrible responsibility.

We understand that telling the people you work with and see each day that they will be let go is very difficult.

However, the teachers and vice principals they intend to cut are the ones who hold the students’ hands and are the very closest to the students.

We ask that the administration make the cuts as far away from the children as possible.

If the district management presents a budget to the Trustees that does not include any cuts to the district office administration, we implore the Trustees to reject the proposed cuts and insist that the district management re-think the situation and do what they can to keep the vice principal positions at full time and keep as many teacher positions as possible.

Caryn Prince is a special education teacher with the Sonoma Valley Unified School District. Bob Gossett, Patty Griffith and Gary Griffith are former SVUSD educators.