RSF School board aims to keep parents informed as budget process continues

Rancho Santa Fe community members have asked questions and expressed fears to the Rancho Santa Fe School District board following the layoff notices issued to 19 members of the certificated teaching staff at R. Roger Rowe School last week. At the board’s March 8 special meeting, President Sarah Neal read a statement in response to the concerns she has heard from parents, in an effort to calm some fears and provide reassurances.

“No final decisions have been made, we are still in the midst of the ongoing budget process,” Neal said, noting that the community will have an opportunity to be involved.

“Some difficult decisions will be made. Reduction in staffing is inevitable. Currently the district employs 111 staff members and we have 600 students and 92 percent of our budget is staffing and benefits and these costs are rising,” Neal said. “Parting ways with people, through no fault of their own, that we deeply value and have made an impact in our children, school and community, is extremely tough.”

Every teacher who receives a pink slip has the opportunity to contest the decision during a hearing. At the board’s March 8 meeting, they approved an agreement with the California Department of General Services’ Office of Administrative Hearings to provide administrative law judges to conduct those hearings.

As the budget process continues, Neal said all departments will be evaluated, including central office and administration. While the district was required to provide advance notice about potential layoffs by March 15, final staffing decisions won’t be made until May and the 2019-20 budget will be approved in June.

During public comment, parent Marsi Havenstein said that the way the cuts are being handled could end up costing the school more in the long run. She asked that the board be mindful of how the layoffs could impact the school’s reputation, future donations and “idiosyncrasies” that make the school special such as the librarian position.

“We have a librarian that’s not a librarian. She doesn’t check books in and out, she is our social-emotional hub of the school,” Havenstein said. “I understand that you’re going to have to make some cuts and you can’t make everybody happy but there are certain positions that are gurus of the school that in no way should be eliminated.”

Neal said after two years of increasing external fiscal pressures, the board set a goal to “support excellence in our district while working within a balanced budget.” As the board undertakes this budget process, Neal said they are fortunate to have the “fresh lens” of new Superintendent Donna Tripi, who is completing thorough evaluations before making her final recommendations.

“The board has complete confidence that Donna is keeping the students in the center of all her recommendations and is clear on the priorities,” she said.

With the proposed cuts, Neal said the district would maintain the 20:1 teacher to student ratio, individualized instruction, and enrichment programs for students taught primarily by middle school specialists.

The only program being removed is middle school dance and health electives and Neal said the board continues to have high expectations for student achievement in English Language arts —literacy support will be continued through full-time teachers.

“Decisions are not being made in haste. Many of these initial considerations are consistent with recommendations the board has received from prior leadership and the community input we have gained over the past two years,” Neal said.

As positions will be eliminated, certain staff will have the opportunity to return to the classroom and certain staff will unfortunately be laid off. Neal said California Education Code dictates exactly how that affects individuals and it is based on seniority—“We have no control over this.”

“Combined, your school board shares more than 30 years as parents and residents in the district and have a vested interest in the success of all of your children and the children of the future. We each bring unique and varied perspectives and expertise to support these important decisions,” Neal said. “We look forward to moving forward together and appreciate everyone’s patience and support.”

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