Board of Education approves budget; struggle over teachers’ benefits continues

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At its last public meeting before a two-month hiatus, the board also appointed Malibu High Principal Mike Matthews to assistant superintendent and approved staff’s controversially vague plan to begin reforming special education.

By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times

Following a budget process that community members branded superficial and opaque, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education approved the district’s 2004/05 budget Thursday, giving the nod to 30-plus layoffs and larger class sizes but also paving the way for better special education.

In March, the board endorsed Superintendent John Deasy’s recommendation that the district cut some of the costly programs that keep class sizes under 20, despite students’ and teachers’ pleas that nonacademic programs be cut instead. The budget passed Thursday finalizes the elimination of some class-size reduction programs, though the extent of cuts is undetermined because donations are still incoming.

Ninth-graders will most likely bear much of the burden of increasing class sizes. The budget calls for the elimination of 24.5 full-time equivalent secondary-level positions, many of which were ninth-grade math and English posts. Ninth-grade class-size reduction has been creating almost $800,000 in debt each year, Deasy said in March.

Four full-time equivalent elementary positions, 1.8 full-time equivalent special education positions, and nine full-time equivalent computer technician positions will also be eliminated.

The special education layoffs seem to undermine the district’s effort to revamp its special education program, but Deasy said the layoffs were insignificant compared to the “massive shift” of dollars into special education budgets. He said 50 percent of the 2004/05 professional development budget-about $2 million-is earmarked for special education.

Of the district’s $102 million general fund, 77 percent will go to salaries and benefits in 2004/05. The remainder will go to books and student services.

There has been grumbling that the district created its budget behind closed doors, declining to hold public workshops or provide easy access to information. Santa Monica resident Jim Jaffe noted that the district’s financial oversight committee did not receive the budget until after the first public hearing this month and there has been no budget information on SMMUSD’s Web site.

The two public hearings, June 14 and last week’s, both happened near midnight, and neither was in Malibu.

Teachers and district still clashing over benefits

Roughly 20 percent of the general fund will go to employee benefits in 2004/05, but the exact amount the district will pay remains undetermined as the Santa Monica Malibu Classroom Teachers Association and the district continue to negotiate over benefits.

Last year’s skyrocketing healthcare rates led the district to threaten freezing the amount they would pay, saddling teachers with the costs of rate increases.

The SMMCTA has demanded the district maintain its current level of coverage-full for 70 percent of teachers and partial for 30 percent. Negotiations have been deadlocked for months.

“The teachers have made it clear that benefits are their number one priority,” said SMMCTA president Harry Keiley, adding that teachers have forgone pay raises the past two years to keep benefit coverage.

Keiley said he is “cautiously optimistic” that a deal may be reached soon because he recently heard that Calpers Insurance rates would decrease slightly in 2005 instead of further inflating.

Parents skeptical of district’s plan to implement Special Ed overhaul

In response to the Special Education Strategic Action Plan that was presented by parents on June 14, the district’s Chief Academic Officer presented ideas Thursday for implementation of the plan to bring the special education program into compliance with federal and state regulations.

Chief Academic Officer Linda Kiminski called for departmental reorganization, curriculum planning, research, and teacher retraining, with Educational Services Professional Development Funds providing most of the funding.

Parent Tricia Crane, chair of the Special Education District Advisory Committee, called Kiminski’s recommendations “disturbingly vague” and said they “seem to have the effect of significantly delaying action … in favor of more process.”

Crane objected to Kiminski’s recommendation for yet another audit. The problems have been identified, Crane said, and the district should focus on solutions.

Deasy said the audit would determine whether the district could be spending its special education funds more efficiently.

The board approved Kiminski’s recommendations, despite other parents echoing Crane’s concerns.

Malibu High principal gets new post; Juan Cabrillo welcomes new principal

Mike Matthews, 11-year principal of Malibu High School, was appointed to be assistant superintendent of Human Resources and chief of staff for the district Thursday. A group of Malibu parents gave Matthews a standing ovation.

“Although I knew I would miss kids being a constant part of my environment, I’m also excited to do something new,” Matthews said Monday, adding that many have congratulated him and some have reacted with surprise, but “most just want the good things that are happening at Malibu High School to keep on happening.”

No one has yet been hired to replace Matthews at Malibu High.

John Davis was appointed to be principal of Juan Cabrillo Elementary on June 14. Former Principal Patricia Cairns announced in April that she would be retiring June 30 to spend time with her husband.