Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Hope District cuts outsiders


The Hope Elementary School District’s Board of Trustees shored up a projected $400,000 budget deficit on Monday night by cutting 122 students from its schools who don’t live within the district’s boundaries.
The board’s vote came just before midnight in front of a packed gymnasium at Vieja Valley School, where hundreds of parents gathered, many of whom voiced their disapproval of releasing the inter-district transfer students, who will be forced to attend different schools next year.

“I don’t think that just cause we’re in a tight spot we pull the rug out from under them,” said Wendy Kelly, who lives within the Hope District.
The district’s superintendent, Gerrie Fausett, said she believes the board made the correct decision, but noted that it was not an easy one.
“This was a very difficult decision,” Fausett said. “It’s tough work and I think the public realized that.”
Five teachers will be laid off as a result of the decline in the student population, Fausett said.
According to Julie A. Wood, the district’s business manager, the need to release the transfer students is a result of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s proposed state budget, which could cut more than $4 billion from education.
As a result of the anticipated state cuts, Hope School District will move to a basic aid funding format next year, which will cut out any money the district receives from the state and require it to be funded solely by the area’s property taxes.
As it stands, the district is defined as revenue limit, which means the vast majority of its funds come from the state and are based on a per student dollar amount. That amount during the 2007-2008 school year was $5,526, Wood said.
She said students who would be in the third, fourth and fifth grade next year will be the ones released. Sixty-four current fifth graders will be allowed to attend sixth grade next year and graduate from Hope School District. About 20 of those sixth graders’ siblings will also be allowed to continue attending Hope District schools.
Because the district voted in 2006 to stop allowing inter-district transfer students from entering Hope schools, none are currently in kindergarten or first grade.
Wood said Monday’s decision by the board, or one like it, was necessary to ensure the teacher to student ratio remains low and the quality of education within the district is high.

The reality
For some of the parents that will be forced to seek out new places to enroll their children in school, the board’s decision was disappointing.
Kim DeVenne, who has a son in sixth grade and a daughter in fourth grade at Monte Vista School, said she broke the news to her children just before school yesterday.
“My daughter is devastated and friendships are being ripped apart,” DeVenne said, adding that her daughter stayed home from school as a result of the news.
She said both of her children began attending Monte Vista in kindergarten.
DeVenne said she spent yesterday calling various private schools, but most were full.
She said she would most likely end up enrolling her children in another public school district.
Some at the board meeting voiced concern about how neighboring school districts would handle absorbing more than a hundred new students, because both Santa Barbara and Goleta districts have cited recent budget woes.
According to Robin Sawaske, assistant superintendent of elementary education for Santa Barbara School Districts, the more students the better.
“Unlike the other districts, we’re taking more,” Sawaske said. “It [won’t] be a budget issue.”
Since the Santa Barbara School Districts are still funded per student through the revenue limit system, and have faced the fiscal impacts of declining enrollment for years, Sawaske said the possibility of more students entering the district is good news.
The only hitch, she said, would be if some of the former Hope District students attempt to transfer outside of their area school to a different one. When this occurs, she said the parents would have to enter a lottery system. But all students will be accommodated at their area school.

The Vote
The board ended up with a narrow 3-2 vote to release the students, with board members Scott Orlosky and Patricia Hiles dissenting.
Orlosky said he voted no because he felt there was a way to move forward with minimal financial risk and preserve the majority of the inter-district transfers.
Orlosky’s idea was to keep the transfer students around and dip into the district’s reserve. He said this could have occurred in-step with a number of other cuts to various programs, which will now be less threatened.
He said his idea was to tighten the district’s belt for a couple of years, while the majority of the board opted to take the hit now and loosen the belt in the process.
“My concern is that this is a fairly dramatic change all at once,” Orlosky said. “Like it or not there are going to be negative psychological effects as a result of that.
“My heart goes out to those families and children who were let go because I felt they were and integral part of the district.”
Further complicating matters for the board was an announcement at the meeting that a five-day, grassroots effort by parents raised $180,000 to put toward the deficit.
Orlosky said he would have used this money as well.
Fausett called the fundraising effort “spectacular,” but noted the $180,000 was only about half of the projected deficit, and to ask parents to fundraise nearly a half a million dollars each year is unreasonable and “unethical.”
She said many parents asked her why students were being cut if the state hasn’t settled on a firm budget, and her answer is simple.
“I quite frankly can’t play that game,” she said. “I am under the gun to make sure that we are fiscally sound.
“We’ve been asked to plan for the worst and hope for the best and that’s what we’re doing here.”
DeVenne, who helped with the fundraising effort, said she would have donated more down the road if her children were allowed to stay.
Fausett said the Hope School District is not alone in having to make cuts, adding that the board weighed all possibilities before coming to a conclusion.
“They certainly did not make this decision lightly or cavalierly,” she said. “This is a grueling thing to put people through.”


Anonymous said...

By enacting this new policy, it will drive housing prices up within the hope school district area. Why? Because the only way to get into these schools is to live in the area. This creates demand for limited houses. If I owned a home in this area, I'd be mighty pleased with the boards decision btw who I know own homes in this area. I wonder how much of the decision was self motivated? I guess when the housing market is sagging, this is one way to ensure your homes have an inflated value.

Anonymous said...

You can’t blame the Board for wanting to take the Basic Aid option. This has been coming for a while and the parents of out-of-district students knew that.

Kids will accommodate the change much easier than adults think they will. They will make new friends and will grow from the experience.

Anonymous said...

The Hope school district is not telling the whole truth. This isn't due to the education cuts from Sacramento. This has been in the works for a long time. Last spring when students were released, Gerrie FAusett had stated in an email to a parent that in Sept of 2009 the district hoped to go to basic aid and that would mean reducing their numbers. I understand their decision, but they are lying about it being due to this years budget deficit.

Anonymous said...

This is a ploy by Gerrie Fausett to aid the (failing) Santa Barbara School District by trying to get parents to return there. It speaks of her loyalty to her former employer, not her loyalty to a thriving local school district.

Anonymous said...

This is a ploy to get basic aid, which means more money for the already rich.