With layoffs looming over their heads, many Yosemite Unified School District teachers and classified staff (maintenance, school bus drivers) are worried about their future in the district, while the district administration and trustees devise a plan to get out of, what has been called a financial crisis.
According to YUSD Superintendent Cecelia Greenberg, the district is currently operating in a deficit spending mode, and is projecting a shortfall of half a million dollars in the 2018-2019 school year, and will be $2.3 million short of meeting the required 3% in reserve in 2019-2020.
“Based upon known figures, we must cut approximately $1.4 million in ongoing expenditures by Feb. 15,” Greenberg said. “Other cuts will be made this year that may include one-time cuts, as well as reductions in operating budgets, supplies, services and deferred maintenance.
Greenberg said further cuts will be necessary in the 2018/19. We must stop deficit spending, plan for future expenses beyond our control, AND we must catch up from the deficit spending that occurred previously due to reduced revenues and increased expenses.
“We cannot continue deficit spending this way ... it’s not good,” Greenberg said.
“While no one wants reductions, including the board, the reality is that we are deficit spending and our unanticipated costs are increasing rapidly,” Greenberg said after the meeting. “Due to the state imposing much of the burden for retirement (STRS and PERS - teacher and staff pension funds) on districts, many districts around the state are struggling to meet the extensive increase in rates. For example, in just a few short years, districts must pay approximately $240 in retirement costs per $1000 in salary just to cover the new requirements for the PERS retirement system.”
Greenberg added that while the district’s revenue is basically stagnant, ongoing costs for previous loans, special education services, nutritional services, and transportation are quickly increasing.
Before Greenberg’s power point presentation, some teachers again voiced their concerns with the current fiscal situation, the superintendent, and the board of trustees.
“We face an imminent fiscal crisis which was created years ago and then not properly addressed by the school board and the various superintendents whose job it is to manage the finances of this district,” said Alternative Ed teacher Amy Weigel. “Who will pay for your negligence? Students, teachers and classified staff. We are told we all need to come together to make tough decisions about what programs to cut and which people will be laid off, but there is no feeling among our staff that our recommendations will be followed or considered. We have been told nothing concrete. We have to rely on rumors and word of mouth because the superintendent still has not produced a plan of action. This board has been openly dismissive of all of the “rumors” flying around Facebook and the community.”
Weigel said there is a simple solution to stop the rumors - “Provide facts, provide truth, address the concerns of this community. The complete lack of concrete information about how we will address our budget crisis can only mean one of two things. The district has no plan for how to solve the problem, or they have a lot of secret plans they will not share with the very people who will be affected most by those plans. If the board and superintendent have a certain number in mind of people or positions that must go, or if you know you have certain programs that will definitely be cut, I urge you to make those decisions public. It is not fair to the employees and to the families whose children attend school in our district to keep that hidden. If teachers will be laid off on March 15, they need to prepare with letters of recommendations, with reaching out to contacts to find a new job. If classified staff will be laid off even sooner, you owe it to them to be direct, honest, and transparent.”
“They are afraid,” Weigel said. “They have seen the intimidation targeted at anyone this year who has spoken up. They have seen colleagues fired unfairly, removed or reassigned, belittled and attacked just for asking for the truth from this district, this superintendent. Let me be clear about staff fear and frustration. We stand united - certificated, classified, and site management staff. All of us are left in the dark. All of us are fearful about what cuts will be made. None of us have been given anything solid, anything real to focus on and here we are halfway through the school year.”
Weigel went on to say the district has reached a financial chaos because teachers and other staff were trusting administrators were doing their jobs.
“You were not. Now, we are forced to do our jobs and try to offer some kind of oversight or check to all of your actions. Not doing so in the past has us now facing the loss of our jobs, essential programs, and our district facing financial collapse,” Weigel said. “Furthermore, how will the board address the fact that Dr. Greenberg has created new positions and raised management salaries for other people to do the Chief Business Officer duties she was hired to do?”
Adult Ed teacher Tony Misner, who has been vocally critical of Greenberg and the board over the past four months, spoke to the board about the personal impact that the reduction in staffing has upon the staff and community as a whole.
“The fact that a large number of ‘senior staff’ are looking for new jobs out of the area as a result of the uncertainty in Yosemite USD is not a good sign,” Misner said.
He shared the impact on his life from his lay-off in 2013, “that to this day, I have not been able to totally recover from. Rumor has it that as many as six teachers from the High School, and a few from each of the other schools in the district will be laid off for next year. That might be a total of 10 to 15 teachers. No one on the staff of the district is responsible for the situation that we are having to pay for. That the members of the board of trustees, who have all sat on the board for years, are responsible for the situation but do not have to pay a price for mismanagement. The board members are ultimately responsible for not preventing the fiscal crisis that we are in.”
Kim Richards, a homeowner, former educator, possible or prospective parent of a future student, participated and observed the YHS board meeting. She’s concerned whether there’s enough accountability, check and balances within the Board of Trustee and Superintendent infrastructure.
“YHS has incredible staff and educators, who are not being listened to or responded to in an accurate, appropriate and timely manner,” Richards said. “Community members genuinely care about YHS, yet, there’s no bridge of consistent and trustworthy information. Decisions, both personal and financial are being made without the link. How is a parent supposed to respond?”
Trustee Tammy Loveland, a Yosemite High alum with two children currently attending YHSD, responded to some of the comments made to and about the board.
Response from Loveland
“It’s not fair to say this board is not passionate and doesn’t care,” Loveland said. “You don’t know what I do on a daily basis or everything I have done in the past for this district. I care deeply about this district and all the students in it. It’s not easy to sit here and take criticism, and you should always remember there is always another side of the story.”
Loveland said she understands teachers and staff members are anxious, waiting to see what the plan is, especially with regards to cuts.
“But we have been waiting for good, solid numbers, and now that our superintendent has the numbers she will formulate with her team an action plan. The board is waiting for that and it would be irresponsible to start throwing out numbers of layoffs until we have the entire plan of suggested cuts, which at this point we have not seen.”
Loveland feels confident the district can make a plan work to get out of the current financial situation.
“It may be painful, but we can do it,” Loveland said.
Bond being considered
Jon Isom, managing principal of a school finance consulting firm, Isom Advisors of Walnut Creek, made a presentation to the board about the process and the options of the district taking a bond to the voters, possibly as early as June.
“The district last passed a school improvement bond measure nearly 20 years ago and have since spent all of those funds on numerous capital projects,” Isom said. “The time has now come for the district to consider a new bond program, one that will provide a match to state aid dollars, upgrade and renovate classrooms and school facilities, and indirectly improve the general fund. But before the Board takes any action to place a school improvement measure on an upcoming ballot, it wants to first explore whether the community would support such an idea. A $5,000 telephone survey in early January is one of the first key steps for the district to take to evaluate the opportunity.”
Trustee Joe Smith volunteered to donate $1,000 towards the cost of the survey.