GUSD talks budget cuts, bullying, bad food

One elementary and three junior high schools in Gilroy were four

Somber expressions and serious talk marked a lengthy portion of the Gilroy Unified School Board meeting Thursday night, where trustees discussed “the dismantling of public education as we know it.”

As the district is faced with losing $471 to $841 in state funding per student in the 2012-13 school year, trustees are gingerly revisiting unsavory cost-saving measures: Increasing classroom sizes, implementing furlough days and reducing personnel are just a few of the “big ticket items.”

The funding scenario hinges on Gov. Jerry Brown’s temporary tax initiative, which will go before voters on the November ballot.

If the initiative passes, GUSD will “only” lose $3 million in state funding.

If it doesn’t, GUSD will lose $7 million.

“I can’t fathom the $7 million figure,” said Board Co-President Rhoda Bress. “We will be reduced to so much less than what we are, and what our students deserve. This is a crisis in public school education.”

After cutting more than $16 million from its budget in the last four years, “we’re being forced to balance our budgets again on the backs of our children,” said GUSD Superintendent Debbie Flores. “This is terribly wrong. There’s no excuse for this.”

Other poignant topics of discussion included strategies for communicating the budget crisis to the public; the fate of home-to-school transportation, the logistics of pursuing a parcel tax to help with school funding; moving a community media center known as CMAP to Christopher High School; the fate of South Valley Middle School’s pool; a serious bullying issue at El Roble Elementary School and complaints over “a dark, brown blob, which was supposed to be a grilled cheese sandwich” at Rod Kelley Elementary School.

BREAKING DOWN THE BUDGET DISASTER

In a nutshell, it’s not pretty.

Similar to last year, GUSD will be faced with a “best” and “worst” case scenario.

• In his 2012-13 budget, Gov. Jerry Brown outlines a $9.2 billion deficit.

• To help address this, he’s proposing a temporary tax package. It will go before voters on the November 2012 ballot.

• Brown’s tax initiative would increase the sales tax by one-half percent, and temporarily raise the personal income tax on Californians who make more than $250,000 annually.

• If voters pass the initiative, GUSD will “only” lose $3 million in state funding next year. This equates to a loss of $471 per student.

• If voters don’t pass the initiative, GUSD will lose $7 million in state funding. This could shorten the 2012-13 school year by another 10 days (in addition to the five cut this year). The $7 million cut equates to a loss of $841 per student for GUSD.

• In May, Gov. Jerry Brown will release his revised budget. The final budget GUSD presents in June will be based on Brown’s May revise. As GUSD must adhere to a March 15 deadline to issue layoff notices, the district must plan ahead for the worst-case funding scenario.

• Trustees will begin to revisit a number of cost saving measures. Last year, this included class size increases; furlough days; reducing staff at the district office; teacher layoffs; maintenance deferrals; adult education, across-the-board salary reductions and the elimination of elementary PE and music, to name a handful of items on the chopping block.

Trustee Mark Good adamantly pointed out he likely won’t in favor of furlough days.

“We need to keep any furlough days we have at a minimum,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll be able to support an additional 10 furlough days which are being recommended by the governor. I’m going to look at anything and everything to keep instructional days from being cut from the calendar.”

GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT: S.O.S

While California’s budget finagle makes headlines daily, trustees volleyed strategies for bringing the problem to Gilroyan’s doorsteps.

“Everybody needs to go through this exercise: What would you cut? What would you cut from our schools?” said Trustee Jaime Rosso. “We’re going to have to pay for the kinds of school that we want for our kids. We need to kind of communicate that message. We need to have that sense in the community that it’s time to do something.”

Trustees discussed shedding light on the crisis by designating a centralized “budget scenario” link on GUSD’s website. It will provide a clear, summarized synopsis of the budget and how it could affect Gilroy schools.

Trustee Fred Tovar talked about taking advantage of GUSD’s partnership with the city; perhaps setting up a series of town hall forums wherein educators can reach out to the community.

“There are also many people who never read the newspaper or go on the district website,” said Trustee Pat Midtgaard. “I think there’s power in board members going out in pairs to every school and talking to clubs and school site councils. That’s the core…there’s something to be said for this personal touch, too. Some people just don’t get it until the big yellow school bus isn’t showing up anymore. I think it doesn’t really hit you until you take your student to school and there’s 34 students sitting in the room.”

FIELD TRIPS, HOME-TO-SCHOOL TRANSPORTATION: IN JEOPARDY

There is some good news: GUSD will get back $85,000 in state funding this year.

While Gov. Jerry Brown’s midyear triggers cut transportation funding by 50 percent – resulting in a loss of $543,000 for GUSD in the current year – the cut was reversed Thursday by the legislature, which passed Senate Bill 81 to restore transportation funding.

The catch?

“It’s for this year only,” reminded Alan Garde, director of Fiscal Services for GUSD.

Gov. Jerry Brown is still proposing to eliminate all home-to-school transportation funding in the 2012-13 school year. This equates to a $1.1 million hit for GUSD next year.

That’s a problem, considering all school districts are legally required to provide transportation for special needs students. If Brown’s budget passes, GUSD will lose $327,000 in special education transportation funding.

GUSD’s transportation program was chopped in half at the beginning of the school year when GUSD cut six of its 12 bus routes, $225,000 from its transportation budget and dissolved positions for five drivers, one dispatcher and one instructor.

It now caters to 540 of the 1,100 students it served last year.

GUSD is also struggling to provide field trip services. After laying off drivers and reducing routes, the department is running on a skeleton staff.

“This is already effecting us,” said Rebecca Wright, assistant superintendent of Business Services for GUSD.

She explained the transportation department is having “a significant challenge meeting the needs of field trips because the district is so short on drivers.”

To accommodate field trips, GUSD has been contracting other bus companies, Wright said.

WHAT ABOUT A PARCEL TAX?

Following the board’s recent talk of exploring a parcel tax to help mitigate ongoing state budget cuts, GUSD will continue to explore the feasibility of this revenue-generating measure. A parcel tax consultant came in Thursday evening (voluntarily) to help answer questions.

Considering Gilroy’s demographics, “What would you expect to be a passable amount?” queried Board Co-President Tom Bundros.

“Frankly, probably the $50 to $70 dollar range is more realistic,” the consultant replied.

A $50 parcel tax would provide $735,000 in revenue annually for the term of the parcel tax, according to GUSD Fiscal Services.

With future losses in state funding expected to land between $3 and $7 million, however, trustee Jaime Rosso said he wouldn’t be in favor of putting effort into passing a parcel tax that gives GUSD “anything less than what we need.”

Trustees have been presented with examples of different parcel tax amounts, which include $50, $100, $150, $200, $250 and $300 per year. A $300 parcel tax would provide GUSD with $4.4 million annually.

The School Board directed GUSD staff to “begin looking into some of the parcel tax ideas” that have been discussed so far.

FOOD COMPLAINTS AT ROD KELLEY ELEMENTARY

Gilroy parent Angela Campbell, whose 5-year-old quadruplets attend Rod Kelley Elementary School, brought two grilled cheese sandwiches to show trustees during Thursday’s school board meeting. She cited mealtime issues at Rod Kelley, where she pays for her children to eat via GUSD’s healthy lunch program. Campbell alleges the food is often unfit for consumption. She also alleges the lunch menu is inconsistent with what is actually being served (an allergy danger, Campbell pointed out). Campbell said her children have been experiencing gastrointestinal issues since school began; often they come home from school hungry because they don’t want to eat.

“This is how it came when he got it,” said Campbell, holding up a grilled cheese sandwich with a dark, brown blob oozing out of the corner. “I don’t know what they’re feeding them, but I certainly would not eat this. I wouldn’t feed it to my dog.”

Campbell placed the sandwiches on the dais and asked trustees to pass it around, so they could get a closer look. 

BULLYING AT EL ROBLE

Gilroy parent Monica Rico addressed the school board through tears during public comment, lamenting multiple scenarios wherein her 7-year-old son was bullied by a group of students at El Roble Elementary School. Rico said she has addressed the school’s principal on more than one occasion – but the bullying has continued. Things have gotten so bad, she said, her son tried to cut his wrists with a knife during Christmas break “because he could not forget everything that the bullies were doing to him.”

“I just don’t feel that staff or principals or teachers have gotten enough training on how to handle or deal with these situations. He didn’t do anything wrong; I don’t see why I should have to transfer him,” said Rico. “My son is not the only one. These kids bully other kids. It’s happening to other kids. Please investigate this and do something about it.”

Near the end of the evening, trustees discussed how to go about addressing this issue.

IN THE PIPELINE: POOLS, CMAP

– GUSD staff will begin to draft a preliminary Memorandum of Understanding between the district and the Community Media Access Partnership known as CMAP; a nonprofit education and government access media center serving Gilroy, Hollister and San Juan Bautista. As CMAP is losing its facility space at Gavilan College, GUSD is considering the possibility of allowing CMAP to move to an open area near the back of Christopher High School’s campus for a period of four years (CHS will likely need the extra space in four years. It’s student enrollment continues to grow). Having CMAP at CHS would give students access to media training and job skills related to broadcasting, journalism, graphic design and video production.

-GUSD will discuss the fate of South Valley Middle School’s pool, which is sitting empty and would cost nearly $300,000 in repairs and ongoing operating costs to stay open. During a joint city/School Board meeting next week, the district plans to ask the city – which also utilizes the pool for its recreation programs – to help foot the bill. Located on South Valley’s campus at 385 IOOF Ave., the pool built in 1995 is the only aquatic facility between Gilroy’s three junior highs and is enjoyed by both the education and community sectors. South Valley offers a bi-weekly adaptive P.E. swim class for special education students, a P.E. swim class unit, and is used by the wrestling and cross country teams.

“When we’re looking at furlough days and increasing class sizes, I can’t justify spending $300,000 to keep a pool open at just one of our middle schools,” noted School Board Trustee Mark Good.

The next regular school board meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at district offices, located at 7810 Arroyo Circle. There will also be a joint city/School Board meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 8 at GUSD district offices. This meeting is open to the public. Click here to visit the GUSD website.

 

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