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  • Saturday, March 14, 2009

     

    METRO VIEWS- OUSD’s Small Schools and Hocus Pocus Budgeting

    Metro VIEWS
    A community service of the Greater Orange Communities Organization
    Giving voice to the Greater Orange Communities

    OUSD’s Small Schools and Hocus Pocus Budgeting
    A community commentary from the
    Greater Orange Communities Organization


    The 4-3 vote of the Orange Unified School Board to close Silverado Elementary School for the 2009-2010 school year was not a triumph for fiscal responsibility nor does it instill confidence in the abilities of some of the Trustees to make the needed hard political choices that still face them in the budget crisis that promises to last for months.

    While small community based schools with small classes are the ideal setting for learning, those agrarian idealistic schools had been abandoned long ago in most urban metropolitan areas as economiclly unrealistic. Except in Orange Unified. While the unique character of the rural nature of the Silverado School community cannot be ignored, in truth that community should be thankful that the Greater Orange Communities subsidized that idealistic schooling for so long. In reality, the attitude that that the community would forever keep their small school was really a 19th Century fantasy that was finally ended the by the very real 21st Century nation-wide economic meltdown. While that community has watched the encroachment of civilization over the last thirty years, talk about closing the small school is nothing new in the belt tightening budgets of OUSD over the last several years. The failed planning that resulted in a last minute effort to save the school by changing it into an Environmental Magnet was really an ill prepared attempt in light of the yearly budget warnings. The attempt to save Silverado Elementary turned out to be too little to late, but just barely. The fact that the vote was a close 4-3 is a warning of the lack of willingness to make the tough decisions early enough to allow proper preparation for the changes needed to occur in Orange Unified.

    The economic reality is that Silverado Elementary, and the three other small OUSD schools mentioned as candidates to close, should have been closed a long time ago. The fact that during an economic meltdown and budget deficits of proportions not seen in 80 years resulted in a close 4-3 vote among the OUSD Trustees is unconscionable. Closing a school of little more that 60 students should have been a no-brainer for ALL the Orange Unified Trustees. While we applaud the tough and difficult vote made by the four OUSD Trustees who voted for the closure, OUSD President Rick Ledesma, Trustees Melissa Smith, Kim Nichols and Mark Wayland, we can’t help but think what were the other three Trustees who voted essentially to keep the school open “for another year” thinking?

    Voting against closing Silverado were Trustees Kathy Moffat, John Ortega and Dr. Adrianna Deligianni. Their votes are more surprising when you consider the stands that these three Trustees have taken in the past. Moffat, as OUSD Board President during the attempted Santiago Charter Revocation basically lead the charge to revoke the Santiago Charter and take away the local control under the staff guise of a “safety” issue. That “safety issue” is now widely seen as just an OUSD Staff ploy to renegotiate better budget terms for the district with the first charter school in Orange County (which was accomplished and the Charter was saved). However last week Moffat was unable to vote to close a small school in a budget crisis that is siphoning valuable district financial resources away. Trustee John Ortega has lately been applauded for focusing on cutting back homework throughout the district, but cannot vote to cut back wasted funding to a school that is siphoning valuable district financial resources. Meanwhile, Alexia Deligianni, who during her election campaign cast herself as a fiscal conservative, has proven to be the biggest bleeding-heart currently on the OUSD Board. She continues to be emotionally swayed by a parade of community members trying to save now unrealistic programs as she then publicly emotionally gushes over their stories without being able to make the tough fiscal decisions she promised if elected she would make. Politics does make strange bedfellows.

    While the OUSD Staff has for the most part these past months given the OUSD Trustees the grim reality of the situation they face, they have lately been providing the budgetary political cover the Trustees need to continue putting off the now overdue tough budget decisions. Last week’s legally required Interim Budget report contained $7.6 million dollars (almost one-third of the current year deficit) in needed negotiable concessions from the district’s employee associations. That $7.6 million amounted to a deceptive, but legal budget place holder. Representing just under 79% of the $7.6 million total are wage concessions of 3.75% from all district employees, a total of $6 million dollars. The shear size of the needed concessions is so far from reality, the OUSD Staff budget almost looks like the fantasy budgeting that we would expect from Enron or Bernard Maddoff’s faked Stanford Group accounting practices. The inclusion of the $7.6 million to balance the Interim Budget we assert is an affront to the taxpayers of Greater Orange Communities and a disservice to the concerned parents, students and workers of the Orange Unified School District. The OUSD Staff’s $7.6 million budgetary magical hocus-pocus is allowing the OUSD Trustees to continue to put off tough decisions that need to be made sooner that later as clearly $7.6 million dollars in employee concessions is a farce.

    Added to this hocus-pocus budgeting is another little known Education Code Statute-EC 44955.5 that establishes a second layoff window other than the May 15th (May 13th because of the weekend) one that just passed. This Ed Code statue allows the second layoff period from 5 days after the adoption of the State Budget if the Average Daily Attendance (ADA) revenue (how the state pays school districts) increase is less that 2%. The current 2008-2009 California State Budget apparently allows for this 2nd Layoff window as the ADA revenue falls below the 2% threshold. Legally some questions about the 2nd Layoff window are being asked including if there was enough time between the late enactment of the budget and August 15th Layoff date to effect the layoffs. August 15th is three days before OUSD starts its 2009-2010 school year.

    Meanwhile the May 19th Special Election looms heavy over the Budgeting Process. With Governor Schwarzenegger about to begin his campaign for passage of the six initiatives in the Special Election ballot, the chances for passage are at this time unknown. However, with the traditional small election turnout being mostly conservative for Special Elections, and the small window of time available to get the message out, defeat of some, if not all of the initiatives by historical standards seems likely. Depending on which initiatives are defeated will decide if a repeat Budget Crisis this year is likely.

    Currently the OUSD Administration is officially studying the cost-effectiveness of the proposals to close the other three small OUSD schools. This now ongoing study also seems disingenuous and politically motivated considering the months of OUSD Staff presentations by then Assistant Superintendent Jon Archibald showing the significant savings of closing the three additional small schools. If the current OUSD Administration and Trustees cannot not make the bold and courageous decisions needed now in the middle of a financial crisis to close small schools, then how do they expect the voters and their employee groups to make all the sacrifices?

    It is time for ALL the OUSD Trustees to move beyond political pressure and the OUSD Staff to move beyond hocus-pocus budgeting. It is time to close ALL the economically unviable small schools in Orange Unified not on a 4-3 vote, but a 7-0 vote. Only then can Orange Unified legitimately ask for sacrifices from the rest of the Greater Orange Communities voters, parents, students and employees.



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