Despite a frustrated public and a divided school board, the Eastern Sierra Unified School District board approved teacher layoffs at their meeting Tuesday night, a move which most see as effectively closing down two academies in the district.
Faced with losing the High Desert Academy and the Eastern Sierra Academy, one Bridgeport resident described the situation as a nightmare. Ironically, Tuesday’s vote was taken on National Teacher Day.
School closures, staff and teacher layoffs have been on the table since the district budget crisis first came to light in March. 21 non-teaching employees face layoffs as do three administrators, and now ten teachers are out of a job. Another teacher will see his hours cut in half. Two other teaching positions were eliminated and wont be re-filled after the current teachers retire or leave for a total of 12 teaching and 3 administration positions cut.
The school board and the district staff have struggled with how to deal with a $1.8 million budget shortfall. With so much of the school districts expenditures tied to salaries, layoffs have been almost inevitable since the budget crisis began.
Upon hearing of potential school closures in March, community members poured into board meetings and pleaded with the board and district staff to find another way to balance the budget that would not require such draconian teacher cuts.
Local residents and concerned parents had been asked by the board to brainstorm money saving ideas. The citizens group came up with a plan to reduce the teacher layoffs from the originally planned 17 to 7, by cutting expenditures to the bone, reducing the school year by five days and other cuts. Some members were shocked that the school board went ahead with the teacher layoffs without putting the communitys ideas on the agenda. The only option listed was the District solution, including the layoffs the community members had tried to avoid.
The community budget scenarios were summarily dashed by District staff, who explained many of the costs were fixed and could not be avoided, and that the community groups had made assumptions on the revenue side that were too optimistic.
The Mono County Office of Education has offered to share some administrative positions so that the Eastern Sierra Unified School District can save a few teachers jobs. Catherine Hiatt, superintendent of the Mono County Office of Education reports that her staff, along with community members, is set to meet with Eastern Sierra School District staff on May 13th to discuss this money saving option.
The closing of schools such as the well regarded Eastern Sierra Academy and the High Desert Academy is seen by many to be the inevitable outcome of the teacher layoffs.
The five member board was not unanimous in their support of the resolution to lay off the ten teachers. Board members Doug Northington and Tad Roberts were opposed. Board members Randy Gilbert, Margie Beaver and Ann Aylesworth voted for the resolution.