Final notices for the proposed layoffs at R. Roger School will be issued on May 15 and parents and teachers continue to speak out about the potential impacts of Rancho Santa Fe School District Superintendent Donna Tripi’s plan to “realign and reset.”
On March 15, preliminary layoff notices went out to 19 certificated teachers, including three elementary school classroom positions, three middle school classroom positions, literacy support teachers and a math coach, PE coach, and art, dance and computer science teachers.
According to Tripi, classified employee layoffs are not legally required to occur before May 15. Unlike certificated staff, under the Education Code school districts can layoff classified employees at any time during the year by giving 60 days notice. However, Tripi said the district intends to make all decisions regarding additional layoffs before May 15.
Part of Tripi’s proposal is that the school library would no longer be staffed by a certificated teacher as most school libraries are not. At the April 18 meeting, public comments were made in support of having a credentialed teacher rather than a paraprofessional in the library, a place called a “safe haven and a refuge” for many students.
“It’s not just a library, it’s a classroom and it’s the core and the heart of this school,” said parent Rona Shapouri.
Librarian Stacey Halboth said with her background as a 28-year teaching veteran, she is able to set up the library with materials that meet students’ research needs and puts more books in kids’ hands to encourage their reading as well as apply their classroom knowledge in the library. In the library, she helps students practice “inner peace” by giving them tools to regulate their emotions and teaches public speaking.
“What I teach in public speaking allows students to find their voice, have empathy for others by listening to their opinions and builds a confidence that they will take with them throughout their lives,” Halboth said.
Fourth grader Jake Hauenstein demonstrated his public speaking skills by speaking in support of Halboth, whom he said helped him pick out books to read when he was struggling with his reading.
“Who’s going to give the gift of reading to the next kid who needs help?” Jake said.
Halboth has also been an advisor for student-driven community service projects such as sending two local Korean War veterans on an Honor Flight or sending slightly used books to fire victims in Paradise.
“I interact with over 400 students a week,” Halboth said. “Now, more than ever, our students are worth and deserve to have the knowledge of credentialed teachers to support their 21st century learning skills outside of the classroom.”
During public comment, parents also questioned whether the superintendent had considered cuts away from the classroom such as the size of the administrative staff.
“Budgetary issues are important and the community has agreed. That being said the community has never been asked to participate in any polls, town halls or open forums to express what programs were the most valued or creative ideas on how to resolve deficit spending,” parent Marsi Hauenstein said.
For transparency, Hauenstein challenged the board to have an open format meeting within the next two weeks to seek relevant feedback and dialogue from the community they were elected to represent.
At the board’s June 12 meeting there will be a public hearing on the proposed budget, and the board will adopt the budget on June 20.
According to Tripi, the proposed cuts will allow the school to provide the same level of service, with more efficiency. They will maintain a 20:1 ratio of students to teachers in every classroom and said the reduction in classroom teachers is due to the lower enrollment. They will maintain literacy and math intervention for students using four full-time teachers and they will continue to have enrichment programs for all students on a weekly basis, however, they will be taught primarily by middle school specialists in the area of music, art, computer coding and drama. All students will still have 100 minutes of PE taught by a certificated teacher and all middle school programs and electives remain in place—they only eliminated dance because there was low enrollment.
There may be additional staffing changes recommended when a detailed review of administrative offices and efficiencies is completed.
Last year the board approved a budget with a $429,060 deficit and multi-year projections at the current staffing levels showed deficit spending of $670,000 and $717,000 over the next two years with the reserve fund decreasing year over year.
The district’s enrollment has been on the decline—in 2005-06 there were 831 students and this year enrollment stands at 600 students. Despite declining enrollment, staffing levels have been maintained at those 2005-06 levels and the district’s per-student spending has increased from $10,334 in 2005-06 to $21,067 in 2018-19, a rise of 204 percent. Projections show student population for the K-8 district dropping to 525 over the next decade.
During public comment, a former school parent said as a taxpayer she was concerned about the spending given the declining enrollment., which she believed is a situation created by a lack of oversight by previous board leadership. The parent said while the proposed layoffs were unfortunate, she supported the superintendent and the board’s efforts to “right the ship.”