Educational potpourri

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

An accumulation of odds and ends have been stacking up in the last few weeks, so below is an educational potpourri on matters affecting local school districts.

Declining reserves

A budget discussion on the agenda for the San Dieguito Union High School District’s March 3 board meeting shows a declining reserve balance for the district. The cuts in state funding account for the need to dip into emergency reserves.

“Administration must work toward reducing the deficit between income and expenditures, particularly as reserves are being spent down,” reads the report.

The report indicates that the district is still projecting that it will be able to meet its requirement to maintain a minimum 3 percent unrestricted general fund reserve balance. However, the funds are clearly dwindling.

According to the district’s March 3 report, these are the projections:

Unrestricted 2010-2011

Beg. balance: $16.17 million

End balance: $12.15 million

Reserve % : 9 %

Unrestricted 2011-2012

Beg. balance: $12.15 million

End balance: $10.17 million

Reserve % : 7 %

Unrestricted 2012-2013

Beg. balance: $10.17 million

End balance: $8.29 million

Reserve % : 5 %

The trend indicates that the following year, 2013-2014, the district will be at its 3-percent minimum level, unless more funding can be secured.

SDUHSD associate superintendent Rick Schmitt said it is unlikely that programs will be eliminated for the coming year, but a $3 million cut was needed. As a result, schools may need to reduce their counselors, coaches, gardeners and other support staff. It will also mean not replacing retiring teachers, resulting in larger class sizes.

At a recent budget workshop, a number of drastic cuts were proposed, one of which was eliminating the 4x4 schedule, in use at Canyon Crest Academy and San Dieguito Academy. The 4x4 schedule is more expensive than the traditional year-long calendar in use at Torrey Pines and La Costa Canyon high schools.

But Schmitt said there was no way the school board would eliminate the 4x4. That was a non-starter, he said, and was never seriously considered.

Islam complaint

In response to a formal complaint by three individuals objecting to the presentation of Islam in the San Dieguito Union High School District’s seventh-grade history textbook, SDUHSD superintendent Ken Noah has asked the school board to refer the complaint to the California Department of Education.

“Since the textbook in question was reviewed and adopted at the state level, and given that this is an issue of statewide concern as the text is widely used in districts across the state, it is appropriate that this matter be referred to the California Department of Education for re-evaluation and decision,” reads the agenda item for SDUHSD’s March 3 board meeting.

“It was a state-adopted text, and it came about as a result of a fairly intensive … process at the state level,” Noah said.

Because this textbook, adopted by the district in 2006, is used widely across the state, Noah said he is obligated to bring it to the attention of the CDE because it potentially affects many other California school districts and “is more than just a concern about San Dieguito.”

“I think it’s important that this get vetted in a way where it’s given a critical analysis,” he said. The CDE, he said, has the resources, the staff, and the process for proper review.

The group objecting to the presentation of Islam in the seventh-grade history textbook met several times last spring with San Dieguito administrators, Noah said, “and we essentially thought we had come to some common ground.”

He said everyone seemed to agree at the time that the issue belonged at the state level, since textbook adoptions are an in-depth process ultimately approved by the state Board of Education.

So it was unexpected when the textbook critics called Noah last month to say they intended to present their complaint to the school board.

“Yes, we were surprised when it came back,” he said. “What I need to know is what transpired from that last conversation ... that would bring it back.”

Obama speaks in Del Mar

Those who objected to the censorship of President Barack Obama’s second back-to-school speech last September will be pleased to know that the Del Mar Union School District made amends for its mistake by presenting the speech on the Friday before the President’s Day weekend. Better late than never.

Freedom speaks in La Jolla

Freedom of speech for students came under attack again, this time at La Jolla High School, where students spray-painted “Freedom for Iran” on student benches. The benches have been used for years for acceptable sloganeering by students, so the issue was not one of vandalism or defacing property.

The difference this time appeared to be that this was a political message inspired by the revolution in Egypt, and it apparently rubbed the school’s principal, Dana Shelburne, the wrong way.

Claiming the benches should be used only for “positive” messages, he had the statement painted over.

But what could be more positive than demanding freedom from dictatorial regimes? And what could be more hopeful than students aware of world affairs and engaged in active support of the fight for democracy and personal liberty?

Two days later, another message appeared, which was also obliterated. This time it read: “Freedom for LJHS and Iran.” Tyranny, it would seem, can take many forms.

The crowning achievement was the opinion piece that ran in the Feb. 24 issue of the San Diego Union-Tribune, where LJHS senior Yasamin Elahi eloquently, respectfully and forcefully blasted the administration for covering up the pro-democracy statements and restricting students’ constitutional right to freedom of expression.

Free-speech advocates should cheer the creativity of students and their uncanny ability to force adults to confront arbitrary and indefensible positions. If students in this country aren’t allowed to express thoughts that support peaceful revolutions seeking to overthrow truly oppressive dictatorships, then that precious First Amendment isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

Tech talk in the classroom

Congratulations to Del Mar Heights School for being a leader in utilizing technological tools in the classroom. The recent article in this newspaper on technology teacher Gail Moran and her inventive iTouch learning program highlighted an ingenious merging of technology with learning. Arming students with skills that will help them secure careers for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet is a challenge all teachers face. Breaking free of traditional instructional models is a huge first step and takes courage and creative thinking from adults, and offers life-long benefits for students.

Student-friendly policy change

More congratulations to the Del Mar Union School District and superintendent Jim Peabody for modifying the intra-district transfer policy to allow students attending a school outside their neighborhood to remain in that school through sixth grade.

Last year, when sixth-grade students got ejected from their schools to make room for neighborhood kids who had just moved into the area, it exposed a deep flaw in the district’s policies and procedures, one decidedly unfriendly to students and disruptive to the educational process.

Many of these “bumped” students were originally forced to transfer to a Del Mar school outside their own neighborhood against their wishes, because their neighborhood school was full. So they were already displaced once. To force them to move again, and for their final sixth-grade year, was heart-breaking for young children who had to be uprooted from friends, teachers and schools they had grown attached to.

The new policy allows intra-district transfer students to be classified as resident students, meaning that, once they are enrolled in one particular school, they will have priority and be allowed to stay at their school through sixth grade and can no longer be forced out.

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Revolving business chiefs in Del Mar

The announcement in January that Cathy Birks was appointed as the Del Mar Union School District’s assistant superintendent of business services brought to mind the sudden disappearance of the previous assistant superintendent of business services, Scott Mann, who lasted approximately 40 days on the job before he was gone.

Mann, a resident of Menifee in Riverside County, was hired on September 13, 2010 and served his last day in the DMUSD on or around November 8, according to DMUSD superintendent Jim Peabody.

His settlement agreement states that Mann was a probationary employee who “may be released at any time” and that it is in both parties’ “mutual best interest to end the employment relationship, effective December 8, 2010.”

Mann, who during his employment in Del Mar also served as a city council member for the city of Menifee, earned an annual salary of $112,967 from the DMUSD, according to Del Mar’s assistant superintendent of human resources, Tim Asfazadour.

Although he left the district on or around Nov. 8, the agreement states that Mann would be given his regular salary and benefits through Dec. 8. The extra month amounted to about $9,414 in salary.

Peabody said the agreement to pay an extra month’s salary was not required for employees in their first year.

“It was a decision I made, because the fit wasn’t there for the team, to release a probationary employee and to give that employee a chance to find their feet and to get another position,” said Peabody, explaining the extra 30 days’ pay.

“If I would have had something egregious happen or something like that, I probably would not have paid after that [Nov. 8] day, but that wasn’t the case,” he said. “I thought it was the correct and professional thing to do.”

Mann, who said he has his own consulting business in Menifee, had no comment on the reasons he left the district. “You’ll have to talk to the superintendent,” he said.

Peabody too would not comment on the reason for Mann’s departure. He said it was part of the agreement to keep those details confidential.

Marsha Sutton can be reached at: SuttComm@san.rr.com.

   
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