The Eastern Sierra Unified School District Board met for a Special Meeting Friday night in Lee Vining to consider the issuance of 8 pink slips to teachers within the District. More than 200 students, teachers, parents and community members filled the Lee Vining gymnasium to hear the discussion and make public comment.
Laying off teachers is always a volatile topic, but would not necessarily pack an entire gymnasium in the Eastern Sierra. The reason this ESUSD Resolution elicited such an unprecedented public response was because the proposed action would not only result in the pink-slipping of teachers, but could effectively eliminate the entire staff of the Eastern Sierra Academy (ESA) in Bridgeport, the High Desert Academy (HDA) in Benton, and the Lee Vining Community Day School (LVCDS).
Board members explained that the issuance of pink slips does not mean that teachers will necessarily lose their jobs–pink slips simply reserve the Districts right to certain specified layoffs. Board chair Margie Beaver repeatedly said the Board had not decided to close any schools, and argued that the positions listed in Resolution 10-6 were not necessarily associated with the above schools. Indeed,
Fridays version of Resolution 10-6 made no mention of any specific campus.
But prior versions of Resolution 10-6, available earlier in the week from the Boards website, clearly stated that as a result of these actions, the following campuses will no longer operate: LVCDS, HDA, and ESA.
Although Fridays version did not mention closing schools, speakers argued that the specific list of positions themselves, regardless of whether or not the resolution stated it, could come from no other schools and would have the same effect.
The March 12th meeting was hastily scheduled because the District is required by law to issue any pink slips no later than March 15th. District officials attempted to explain how they found themselves in this position: property tax revenues had been tapering off, they had overspent on some projects, and they had been caught off-guard by cutbacks in state appropriations released in the prior week. This unanticipated loss of revenue would push their budget to the brink, as deficit spending in recent months had already consumed a once-robust reserve. The District had issued 6 pink slips in the prior month, but because of the additional loss of state revenue, they were forced to consider another round.
Despite Board member attempts on Friday at quelling controversy, the first person to step up to the podium, Angie Annette, a junior at ESA, abruptly dashed any hopes of the Board, or the Superintendent, that they would somehow emerge unscathed. Annette turned her three years of ESA speech contest experience directly against the Board and Superintendent, in effect symbolizing what would become a common theme: why would a District committed to academic excellence want to eliminate the highest academic achieving High School in the District?
The tongue-lashing that followed was at times fact-based, at times personal, but almost entirely critical. Speakers paraded across the podium and a few hours later, all that was left was a huge pile of shoulder chips.
Speakers made accusations including financial mismanagement by both the Superintendent and the Board, repeatedly asking how they could have been caught off-guard by revenue losses that everyone in California has known were coming. Speakers asserted that campus closures require community input, and accused them of a lack of transparency about the effects of the resolution. Speakers implored the Board to find another way to solve the problem, and to stop acquiescing to the direction of the Superintendent. Above all, speakers demanded accountability for the Districts financial crisis.
One of the suggestions made to the Board was to pink-slip every District employee, so they would truly have all options open. This suggestion was taken to heart by Board member Doug Northington, who moved to add a few more positions to the list to provide the Board with additional flexibility. This was agreed to, before Resolution 10-6 passed 4-1, with Northington the sole dissenter. The Boards next meeting is Wednesday the 17th in Lee Vining, when they will discuss the future of the pink-slips issued on Friday.