Déjà Vu All Over Again!

Two issues at Tuesday’s Beaumont Unified School Board meeting should be of concern to parents and employees of the district, the Code of Ethics Board Bylaw 9271 and teacher layoffs.

Board Policy 9271 Code of Ethics

At Board Member Mark Orozco’s insistence, Dr. Kayrell and Board President Mrs. Lara agreed, reluctantly, to seek an opinion to the legality of the policy from the district’s legal counsel. Dr. Kayrell after being questioned by Orozco about the source of the new policy, stated it was “cut and pasted’ from neighboring school board Bylaws. He agreed to Mr. Orozco’s request to provide more detailed information regarding his sources.

Board Member Janelle Poulter requested some changes to the language of the policy which were agreed to by the rest of the board. She was not comfortable with the board being prohibited from holding any meetings excluding the Superintendent unless his contract or performance was the subject of the meeting. The revised language should clarify that this requirement only concerns open, public meetings. The board will be able to hold closed door meetings without the Superintendent’s attendance. Mrs. Poulter also suggested the entire board should be included in the creation of any investigative committee, not just the President or Vice President and Mrs. Lara agreed.

This was a first reading of the proposed policy. I look forward to seeing the changes and the legal analysis at the second reading.

Teacher layoffs

The district is required to provide notice by March 15th to any teachers that may be laid off next year. The final notices have to be sent out by May 15th. These terminations can be rescinded anytime before the start of the next school year and I believe many of them will.

What we are seeing is a repeat of what happened 3 years ago.

In February of 2009, the district held public forums to inform and “include” the public in the process of deciding where to make budget cuts. The list of items the public was asked to consider included layoffs, school closures, transportation cuts, across the board pay cuts, furlough days, increased class sizes, and elimination of the dual immersion program at Palm. They were told about the large number of pink slips that had to go out before the preliminary deadline. I don’t remember the actual number but I believe it was many more than the 41 they approved this week.

When it was all over, the district sent out the pink slips but rescinded many of them. They eliminated transportation for middle school and high school students. Class-size reduction was eliminated from the third grade and kindergarten classes went from 20 students to 33. Many parents who were all worked up about a school closure and elimination of programs like the dual immersion program were relieved to see their kids’ schools still open and programs still in place. The superintendents and board members patted themselves on the back for all the jobs they saved. I am surprised they didn’t boast about jobs “saved and created”.

At the public forums in 2009, there were demands from the public for the administration to share in the sacrifices they were asking everyone else to make. They promised to accept furlough days, as long as the two labor units also agreed. At the time I called these empty promises because I believed they knew the unions would never agree. I was told by Mrs. Lara these weren’t empty promises, she stated “We don't make any empty promises." Well, it’s three years later and the superintendents have still made no personal sacrifices.

Tuesday night was déjà vu all over again.

Once again teachers and parents are asking the administration to share in the personal sacrifices. Once again the administration is touting their promise to match furlough days. Once again the district plans to hold public forums. And once again our kids will be asked to make the most sacrifices.

You will see in the upcoming forums, as before, the district consider many programs and services to eliminate. They will get many in the public to wake up and face the reality these cuts may have. When it’s all over, our kids will be the ones to lose.

As BTA President Jody Behrens-Blaul accurately stated “the district has sufficient reserves to preserve vital classroom instruction during this time of emergency”. I agree with her analysis that the reserves are too high but I think there is more to the story, The administration, with the school board’s blessing, practices a “don’t look over here, nothing to see here” strategy. They have us focused on the declining revenues from the government. They tell us most of their funds are restricted to specific uses. They tell us to accept that the past years budgets are completely justified and include only critical programs and services. Then they tell us to focus on the employee salaries and make the cuts to reduce the payroll.

Just like in 2009, we are hearing from our board members that they will do everything in their power to keep the cuts as far away from the kids as possible. I believe we need to demand our board take a bottom up budget approach. They need to start by showing the community the entire budget, every program, service, supply, and cost; not just the category totals. Then have every department head publicly justify every item in their department’s budget.

We need them to fully disclose the fund accounts that are being used to build the Taj Mahal. They tell us that the funds that are being used to build the new district office are restricted to facility construction. This isn't entirely true. I have written about legislation introduced by our former state assemblyman, Russ Bogh, for the Beaumont Unified School District that allowed flexibility with the proceeds from the sale of district properties.

Before any teachers lose their jobs and students lose instructional time, we need to demand more from our elected school board members.This once again is wishful thinking on my part.

Here is what I predict will happen:

Many of the teachers’ 41.9 termination notices will be rescinded. A smaller percentage of the classified termination notices we haven’t heard about yet will be rescinded. Elementary school transportation will be eliminated. The labor units and superintendents may finally agree to furlough days. Class size average across the board will increase and the school year will be reduced by five days.

Teachers and administrators will all be thankful for the jobs saved. Board members and administrators will tell us how well they did and will compare our budget to the struggling school districts around the Inland Empire. And, while everyone is patting themselves on the back and giving high fives, our families and our kids will be the real losers.

Déjà vu all over again!