Assistants, librarians avoid cuts for now

Faced with a $2.5 million deficit in the upcoming year, Del Mar Union School District officials looking for ways to save money voted down one not-so-popular suggestion last week.

Superintendent Sharon McClain had proposed saving $74,000 by cutting in half the hours of office assistants, librarians and nurses.

Principals, parents and school staff members spoke out against the cuts at last week’s school board meeting, prompting the superintendent and trustees to reject the idea at this time.

Among them were Del Mar Hills first graders Maia Carlson and Riley Aiken, who pleaded for their school staff members, standing on chairs to reach the microphone.

Maia, 6, said that her school nurse Trudi Smith helps her with her asthma and with the threat of swine flu, students need someone at the school full time.

She said librarian Tamara Radford can be fun and silly and when she felt sick Radford gave her a funny bookmark.

Riley, also 6, said that Radford does “50 other jobs” and even made cookies for their school movie night.

Maia said office assistant Dana Avanzino brought her lunch to her when she forgot it and Riley said Avanzino helps younger kids find their way if they get lost.

“I know times are tough, but these are very special people who do important things,” Maia said. “Please don’t cut their hours.”

“They are my friends at school,” Riley said. “It just wouldn’t be the same without them.”

McClain’s proposal would have slashed time across the board using a formula that didn’t account for all the work staff members do at each individual school site.

McClain said that she originally favored the cuts but hearing the school sites’ concerns helped change her mind. She said they might have to re-visit these cuts, perhaps next time armed with more information.

“This district does have a $2.5 million deficit and I’m really concerned for all of us how to make it go away,” McClain said.

Parents and teachers echoed what the young students said: that the staff members do much more than just their job description from heading up lunchtime running clubs to organizing book fairs.

Five school principals at the meeting said that librarians and office assistants even help out at lunchtime, the only staff resources available for that duty.

Sycamore Ridge third grade teacher Debbie Hanna unrolled a long scroll with a list of things office assistant Eileen Randall does above and beyond her job title.

“To cut their hours would jeopardize the school’s efficiency,” said Sycamore Ridge kindergarten teacher Veronica Jones.

Many work extra unpaid hours. Ocean Air administrative assistant Karen Holty said all office assistants and librarians came in the week before school started and helped get the campus ready to open, although none of them were paid for that week.

Board President Katherine White suggested next year they use a process similar to the Extended Studies Curriculum, where they give school sites a certain amount of money and principals decide how to allocate it to meet their campus needs.

Parents said they understand the district needs to make cuts but said they don’t support the piecemeal approach to making them.

Already the district has made some moves to help the budget shortfall for this year: They reduced board of trustee travel, eliminated the teacher-in-residence program with Cal State San Marcos, eliminated instructional aides to assist specialist teachers and in blended classrooms, reduced copying costs and eliminated a night custodian.

The 7-11 committee continues to evaluate the closing or consolidation of a small school site.