DMUSD considers 19 teacher layoffs

As many as 19 teachers in the Extended Studies Curriculum program may be laid off and the Del Mar Union School District Board of Trustees may cut out the art and physical education arms of that curriculum if they approve Superintendent Sharon McClain's recommendations.

At the school board's Feb. 11 meeting, McClain recommended that the ESC program be trimmed to include only technology, science and music based on input from parent surveys asking which programs they valued most and the professional judgment of the administrative team.

"We haven't been happy in tackling these cuts," McClain said. "But we can't continue to live beyond our means and maintain our budget."

Currently there are 39 teachers in the ESC program and only 19 are needed to cover its contractual agreement, McClain said. Seniority will play into the lay-off decisions and teachers are expected to receive preliminary notice by March 15.

A final decision on the cuts is expected to come at the next board meeting at 5:45 p.m. Feb. 25.

About 50 people attended Wednesday night's meeting at Del Mar Hills Academy.

Public comment included an art teacher near tears and a student who expressed how much her art and PE classes mean to her.

"Art is one of the bright spots in life," Bree Belshin, a Del Mar Hills fourth grader, told the board. "You're assigned to do something but you can still be creative. Maybe that's one of the reasons you don't like it."

Belshin said her art teacher Nicole Nelson "makes our river flow" and that no one could replace Coach John Sink, who not only gives the students exercise but helps make students' "brains work much, much better."

The cuts do not mean that PE and art won't be taught in district schools, it just means that they won't be taught by specialized teachers in the ESC program, who bring "depth and complexity" to these subjects.

"None of us want to be carving up a program that we're very proud of," said board President Katherine White.

Survey woes

In parent surveys, science and technology were top ranked, followed by PE. Music and art ranked last. Participation in the surveys was about 70 percent at most schools and as high as 80 percent at Carmel Del Mar, Ashley Falls and Del Mar Heights.

Del Mar Heights PE teacher Ian Phillip didn't understand how PE was on the chopping block if they had been ranked so high.

McClain explained teacher surveys indicated PE was one of the areas teachers felt most prepared to teach. She said they also discussed having a model where a district PE teacher would supervise the PE programs at each site.

"I'm really disheartened by the result of the parent surveys," said Natalie Childs, a music teacher at Torrey Hills.

She said art and music is more than just crafts and songs - students learn to work in groups, decision-making, how to listen as well as music and art history.

"I speak for the glitter, the glue and the crayons," said Ashley Falls art teacher Amy Doyle. Near tears, she likened her feelings to colors. She said she was red with frustration, feeling that her hands were tied. She felt black, imagining an empty art studio. She said was green with envy that art wasn't at the top of the results of the survey.

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