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SCHOOL NEWS: Red Ink & Assorted Woes

By Jackie Burrell
Friday, March 7th, 2008 at 10:27 am in Schools.

School (illus. by Heather Witherspoon, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, MCT Direct) It’s been a busy week in education headlines, what with the homeschool court ruling, kindergartners getting ousted for sporting a mohawk, and the Brazilian 8-year-old who passed a law school entrance exam but was denied entrance because the university wants him to finish elementary and high school first. Ahem. So, how’s your little over-achiever?

Most of this week’s local news revolves around budget bloodletting: Mt. Diablo district trustees voted to empty a fund earmarked for teachers’ health benefits - effectively re-opening a particularly sore point in union negotiations – to save $1.8 million. (Backstory: the teachers union voted away its health benefits in favor of a sizable pay raise eight years ago. Now many of those original employees, many of whom were near retirement, are gone and the lack of health benefits has had a dramatic impact on teacher turnover and the district’s ability to hire replacements. Taking benefits off the table basically sends already thorny contract negotiations back to square one.)

Antioch cut 104 temporary full-time teachers who’d been filling in for colleagues on leave or special assignment and 83 on probationary (i.e., incomplete) teaching credentials, but how this actually impacts children is unclear. The temps are out, but not the original teachers whose spots they were filling.

And Byron trustees, instead of making the tough decisions themselves, are assembling a committee of teachers, parents and administrators to decide which jobs go. Sounds splendid and inclusive, doesn’t it? But they’ll make the same decision every school district makes because this stuff follows a script dictated by laws, union contracts and tradition – cut janitors, secretaries and other outside-the-classroom folks, then the temporary and emergency credentialed teachers, then the newest teachers, then threaten to cut a program families really, really love – music, sports (see: Alameda), etc. — and float the idea of a parcel tax. Members of the committee will then feel horribly guilty, and the trustees and superintendent can pat themselves on the back for following the public dictate. How jaded are we? Very.

Meanwhile, West Contra is contemplating sending pink slips to 77 teachers whose positions are funded by grants — Schwarzenegger is talking about reducing specific grants, so no surprise there — but they still have to cut $10 million out of their $300 million budget, this won’t make a dent, and by law, they must notify certificated employees (school-speak for “teachers” and similar positions) by March 15. It’s March 7 now. You do the math.

In related news, West Contra also says it no longer has the money to rebuild all the schools it originally intended to renovate with Measure J funds. Three high schools, including Pinole Valley, got the bad news this week.

And in non-budgetary news, a part-time vocal coach who taught students at Campolindo, Acalanes and Miramonte high schools has been charged with molesting three teenage boys. An investigation is underway.

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