Parents protest potential layoff of PDMS principal


In a marathon meeting last Thursday, Malibu residents continued to protest potential budget cuts being considered by the Board of Education of the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

About 30 Malibu parents, teachers and administrators helped pack the 100-seat Santa Monica City Council chamber as the board considered budget cuts until 10:30 p.m. and, for another two hours, charges of noncompliance with special education legislation at Malibu High School. [See separate story on special education.]

Even as the audience heard the projected budget shortfall for the 2000-2001 budget year was now less than $1.5 million (down from $2-2.5 million two weeks ago, and down from the $5 million projected in December), several parents decried the potential layoff of Point Dume Marine Science Principal Cynthia Gray.

“Cynthia Gray is a good fit for the Marine Science School,” parent Bonna Read told the board, chaired by Malibuite Todd Hess. “You did a good job picking the perfect person for the job, and we want to keep her.

“Both schools would suffer irreparable damage,” Read continued, referring to the plan to have Juan Cabrillo Elementary School principal Pat Cairns administer both schools. “Imagine asking one principal to attend two sets of PTA meetings and many other public functions, not to mention driving back and forth between campuses. Both schools require someone to be the last word in the many day-to-day operations where the buck has to stop.”

Read also read aloud a letter to the board from Point Dume Marine Science Elementary PTA President Tarek Shraibati. “We need the strong leadership Ms. Gray has provided,” the letter said. “Without it our school will fall into chaos.”

Cutting Gray’s job is just one proposal of the original 65 presented to the board to close the $5 million budget shortfall projected in December. According to the board timeline for adoption of the final 2000-2001 budget, action on potential layoffs must be made before a March 2 meeting in Malibu.

Additional board meetings are scheduled for Feb. 9 in Santa Monica, Feb. 15 in Malibu and Feb. 17 in Santa Monica. The school district staff is to present its revised list of budget cut recommendations totaling $2-$2.5 million at the Feb. 24 meeting.

Referring to a report by Assistant Superintendent Arthur Cohen that the budget shortfall was now estimated at less than $1.5 million, parent Kim Scott told the board, “We have heard what a positive difference 26 students can make,” [$131,000 in state funding]. Having only one principal for the two schools would drive many students out of the district.”

Rick Gates, president of the Santa Monica-Malibu Council of PTAs, told the board he would be addressing the Malibu City Council Feb. 14. As he has with the Santa Monica City Council, he will be asking Malibu to work with the school district to increase state education spending.

Malibu resident Wendy Carey, who serves on the school district fiscal advisory committee, announced the availability of 10,000 form letters to state elected officials, including Gov. Gray Davis and state Superintendent Delaine Eastin. A trip to Sacramento the last two weeks in April is also being considered, she said.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and Superintendent Neil Schmidt may be reached at 1651 16th St., Santa Monica, CA 90404, telephone 451.8338, fax 450.1667