School District Threatens to Cut 92 Staffers and All Elementary Music
• Parents Say Actions Are Pressure for Yes Vote on Tax
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
The Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District Board of Education was blasted by representatives of the teachers union and arts and music advocates at its Feb. 18 meeting for a layoff plan that would cut $7.3 million from the budget by letting go of 15 percent of the district’s certificated staff—92 employees, including teachers, counselors and nurses—and completely eliminating the elementary school music program.
The self-described financially strapped Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District says it is facing a $14 million deficit.
The resolution contained a depressing litany of certificated staff reductions: three nurses, seven counselors, eight math and science teachers, two physical education instructors, 10 music teachers—encompassing the entire grade school music program, and 42 elementary school instructors, among others.
Harry Keilly, the president of the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association, was quick to point out that there are no administrative positions on the list. “15 percent of the membership of teachers union has skin in the game. We don’t see the administrative side having any skin in the game,” Keilly said. ”The association opposes each and every one of the layoffs.”
Arts and music advocates also cried foul, criticizing the board’s decision to tie the fate of the elementary music program to the success or failure of the May 25 parcel tax initiative. One speaker questioned whether the program will be spared even if the measure passes. Others stressed the importance of music as a core subject.
“It’s not only important, it’s essential,” said one parent. “We will lose too much by cutting these programs.”
“It’s very important to our children, Not fluff. It’s part of core curriculum,” said another, stressing that the cuts to the music program will have the greatest impact on the district’s poorest students whose parents do not have the option of placing them in different schools or providing private music lessons.
“The secondary music program would suffer irreparable damage at the middle school level [if the program is eliminated] said a third.
The cuts may not end up being as dire as predicted, because under state law the district is required to issue pink slips no later than March 15 and long before the state budget is finalized. If the state, which provides 70 percent of school funding comes through with more money than anticipated, some positions will be reinstated, according to school district superintendent Tim Cuneo.
The district is also counting on it’s May 25 parcel tax initiative to raise additional funds, although the measure, if it receives the required two-thirds vote, will offset less than half of the district’s projected deficit.
However, additional layoffs could still be on the horizon, and Cuneo stated that the district will be looking at reductions to the administrative staff.
A special early retirement incentive could offer a less traumatic alternative for up to 28 district teachers, but would do little to improve conditions for students facing larger class sizes and cuts to programs.
The board agreed to postpone voting on the layoffs until March 4, after boardmember Oscar de la Torre raised concerns. “It would be more beneficial to postpone the vote,” de la Torre said. “We’re contemplating making some very serious reductions. We can make some irreparable harm if we send this message out. Some of our employees might start looking for other opportunities just by putting this out.”
Ironically, the school district just announced this week that Santa Monica High School music students Emily Wong and Matthew Van Pelt, concertmaster and principal violist of the Santa Monica High School Symphony Orchestra, respectively, have successfully auditioned for and have been accepted to the 2010 National High School Honor Orchestra.