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School board puts cuts on hold

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Because the public and the Sonoma Valley Unified School District trustees didn’t get a look at the proposed personnel cuts until Monday afternoon, barely 24 hours before Tuesday’s meeting, the trustees pushed the vote back a week to their March 13 meeting.

Both the trustees and the audience had questions about the proposed cuts. Administrators will be scrambling to answer the questions since the questions and answers need to go out with the agenda packet that is put together Thursday afternoon so it can be ready on Friday.

Originally, the district proposed eliminating 22 teaching positions – 13 in elementary and nine in secondary; 3.4 administrative positions which includes a vice principal at the high school two half-time vice principal positions at the two middle schools, and a .4 administrator on special assignment.

The cuts are necessitated after a letter from the Sonoma County Office of Education wanting the district to cut more than $2 million from its budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

But in a revised proposal from Superintendent Chuck Young , the district proposed eliminating the equivalent of nine full-time elementary teachers; two full-time secondary math teaching positions; one full-time secondary vocational education teaching position; one full-time secondary English teaching position; two secondary science teaching positions and 2.4 full-time administrative staff positions for a total of 17.4 full time positions.

Trustee John Kelly wanted more time to study the proposal and he wanted some answers too. “I need clarity in facts,” he said.

Kelly threatened to vote against the proposal if it came to a vote at the March 6 meeting. “We are not ready to make a decision tonight,” he said. “If we’re going to force this tonight, I’m voting ‘no.’”

Kelly wasn’t happy with the proposal because it didn’t have what he called, “shared sacrifice.”

“When the community suffers, we all suffer,” he said.

Members of the audience, which were mostly teachers and district staff, also weren’t enamored of the proposal because of the lack of shared sacrifice. They weren’t happy that the teachers would take the brunt of the personnel cuts while only one of the cuts comes from the district office – and that, they point out, is a TOSA, a teacher on special assignment.

Board President Britta Johnson said she came into the meeting thinking the board would vote on the proposal, but changed her mind during the 90-minute discussion. “It would not serve us well to take action tonight,” she said.

“I’d love it to be a share-the-pain model,” she said. “I’m all for trying a new model. I just don’t know what the right way looks like.”

Loyal Carlon, the district’s human relations director, said the administrators work at the behest of the trustees. “We’ll get up tomorrow and get at it again” he said.

But Karen Strong, the district’s assistant superintendent of instruction and curriculum, reminded the board that it’s facing a statutory deadline. The board has to approve cuts at the March 13 meeting because, by statute, it has to send out potential layoff notices to teachers by March 15.

“There’s not much that can change in a week,” she said. “And it’s not a week. Packets go out Friday so that gives us about a day.”

Young, who had anticipated a vote, was exasperated. “We’re not going to solve this tonight,” he said.

Boardmember Nicole Ducarroz, who tried to make a motion calling for a vote, decided against it, so the proposal never came to a vote.

Fellow boardmember Dan Gustafson wasn’t sure what could be accomplished by extending the vote another week. “We’ve got to pass this tonight or next week,” he said. But in the end, he didn’t push for a vote.

Earlier in the meeting, Strong presented a staffing report that responded to the criticism by the teachers union, community members and board members that the cuts didn’t touch the district office.

The Valley of the Moon Teachers Association suggested three positions in the district office that could be cut – an assessment and date coordinator; an English language coordinator and an ed tech coordinator.

Strong pointed out that since the 2010-11 school year, the district has lost 212 students and, she said, there’s no telling how many more it’ll lose because of the October firestorm.

She said one of the reasons the district is losing students is because of the high cost of living.

Trustee Kelly said that families can no longer afford to move to the Valley. “But teachers and staff can’t afford to live here either,” he said. “They have to commute.”

And he said the district was increasing staff despite a shrinking budget.

More than a dozen audience members voiced their displeasure with the report, and former boardmember Helen Marsh was blunt saying, “I don’t think the district office is taking its share of the cuts.”

The board should have some answers to their questions when it meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 13, in the Community Meeting Room.

Email Bill at bill.hoban@sonomanews.com.