A report on the status of the district’s history of contributions and options on how it could contribute again to the sixth grade Outdoor Education program, also known as science camp, garnered pointed comments from Parent Teacher Club members, the Oakdale Teachers Association President, district administrators, and others at the Nov. 4 regular meeting of the Oakdale Joint Unified School District Board of Trustees regular meeting.
OJUSD Chief Business Officer Susan Dyke provided background, noting that in 2007-2008 when the State of California declared a fiscal emergency it caused mid-year budget cuts and ongoing cuts were made. With reduced revenues from the state, OJUSD eventually stopped contributing funds toward Outdoor Ed as of the 2009-2010 year. The PTCs picked up the full tab, increasing fundraising efforts. However, trying to continue to fund it has apparently become a burden in some respects to the PTCs, so it was recently asked by board members Tina Shatswell and Diane Gilbert if the district could find some money somewhere to contribute toward science camp again for this year. The expense related to Outdoor Ed and the funding of it have been public comment topics at prior board meetings.
Dyke said that a $50 contribution for each sixth grader who’s contracted to attend Outdoor Ed this school year would equate to a little over $16,000. It could come from unrestricted lottery funds, which came in at a greater amount than expected, or it could come from unrestricted Tier III categorical funds. However, she added that any ongoing financial commitments would need to be weighted with other priorities of the district.
Oakdale Teachers Association President Linda Kraus took to the podium and recalled that she was at the board meeting a few years ago when the PTCs said they would cover the costs of science camp. She said that with the schools fighting to get every dollar, to expend money now, when the district is just getting furlough days removed, would not be a good choice. She added that if money were to be spent, it should be fair and that all students should benefit. She also said that she felt that since it is contract negotiations time with OTA and CSEA, to give money to Outdoor Ed would be “unwise.”
Parent James Markel agreed with Kraus, noting that it’s fiscally smart to not allocate any money to science camp at this time.
Unwilling Helpers Ruining It?
Magnolia Elementary School PTC member Adrienne Scott said she did not disagree with the previous commenters. However, she said that it’s difficult for PTCs to pay for camp when the district sets the rules on who gets to go. She said the PTCs are drowning and that the Outdoor Ed program needs to be reevaluated. She feels students need to qualify for it, not necessarily through monetary means, but they could write essays, or something similar to show they deserve to attend.
Melissa Gibson, a Cloverland PTC member and parent of a younger elementary age student, said she feels Outdoor Ed should be gone. She wanted to know what they learn while there and that the students should write a report or something to show what was learned.
“They need to be accountable. They need to show us why we should send them,” she said.
Gibson reported that at Cloverland, only a couple thousand dollars had been brought in by the sixth grader so far. She added that she works her behind off and she doesn’t understand why she needs to do it if there are sixth graders who are benefitting and aren’t doing anything to contribute.
Larry Mendonca, OJUSD Assistant Superintendent for Pupil Services and Facilities, commented that the district can’t restrict or stop a student from going to Outdoor Ed due to inability to pay.
Superintendent Marc Malone said that the he and others in the district hear the parents’ frustrations and that OJUSD is hindered to an extent, that there are certain legal limitations.
Since the item was a report and possible action of approval of a district contribution to Outdoor Ed, board president Mike Tozzi called for a motion in order to discuss it on the board. Trustee Tina Shatswell made the motion to make the $50 per sixth grade student contribution but it died for lack of a second. Trustee Diane Gilbert wanted to table the matter until the next meeting but trustee Bill Dyer pointed out that the board couldn’t table something that wasn’t moved and seconded. Shatswell added that she agreed with Kraus’ point but wants to see if the district could help instead of the PTCs having to scramble. Outdoor Ed attendance contracts are made prior to the school year.
The Outdoor Ed item will not appear on the next agenda, but the district plans a full review and evaluation of its options in April 2014 for the 2014-2015 school year.
Another hot topic of comments at the meeting was a report delivered by Kristi Rapinchuk, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, regarding parental requests for specific teachers and class placement. She said the district tries to have equitable practices across all the school sites. She said OJUSD must first adhere to education code, then to board policy while developing class rosters. Rosters are done by the site principals. Rapinchuk said some of the considerations are class size, the number of mainstream students, gifted learner and English learner clusters, gender balance, student discipline profiles, and interpersonal student conflicts. She added that the district wants parents to provide input to principals.
However, this issue was brought to board attention at the previous meeting when a Cloverland parent complained that she wasn’t allowed, as she was in the past, to make any requests regarding her child’s teacher. Rapinchuk said that parents have a right to be heard but that honoring teacher requests doesn’t necessarily happen. She said principals will consider parent input, but other things will be considered first.
In Rapinchuk’s presentation, Ed Code 51100 c was cited. She said that the district can’t guarantee requests and the district has to be equitable. She further clarified that the district can’t honor requests because they can’t be afforded to everyone.
The Cloverland parent who brought up the issue to the board in the first place said she was told it was board policy and was then told it wasn’t to not allow teacher requests. She said that parents know their kids best and it should be an “equal partnership” with the schools. She also spoke about rumors of special privileges for staff and administrators to place their own children in certain classrooms. She pointedly asked if this was a special privilege and noted that it should be fair for everyone.
Rapinchuk responded that she always trusted in the system for her children. She also said that she agreed that parents know their children best and parental input should be one piece of the placement process.
After other comments, Superintendent Malone said that if there’s something that’s stated policy and there is an issue with it not happening, then it should be directly brought to his attention. He added that he takes his job seriously.
Near the meeting start, it was announced that trustee Bill Dyer was sitting in his final meeting after serving on the board since 2001. He is not running for reelection. Tozzi provided a little background on Dyer’s military service and teaching career and also presented him with a plaque. Each board member and Superintendent Malone made monetary donations in Dyer’s name to the California State Railroad Museum Foundation. Each of the trustees also spoke about Dyer’s service to the board.
Trustee Mike House said that he appreciated the Dyer was a standard for doing things correctly on the board.
Trustee Gilbert acknowledged that she and Dyer didn’t have “love at first sight” and didn’t see eye to eye at first. She added that he always shows up, is always prepared, and works hard, adding that his focus is always on what’s in the students’ best interest. Dyer thanked Malone and the board members, noting how much they accomplished, as well as the community for supporting him, and his family for making sacrifices in order for him to serve. Several of his family members were also in the audience at the meeting.
In other business, the school district was presented with a giant check for $10,000 by the Oakdale Sunrise Rotary to fund Oakdale High School’s Drive to Survive driver education program. Several of the Sunrise Rotary members were present and briefly spoke about how the program started with a lobster dinner fundraiser. The next Sunrise Rotary fundraiser for the program is slated for May 10, 2014.
Trustee Shatswell had praise for the program stating that it affects the students and the way they drive and how they view other drivers.
In reports, Kraus stated that at a recent OTA session, progress was made on many articles of the agreement that is being negotiated with the district. California School Employees Association #830 President Mark Mutoza reported that this month the local chapter will commence with the district on a collective bargaining agreement.
In public comments, local residents Pat Bicknell and Jessica Jackson both expressed their opposition to the implementation of Common Core. Bicknell talked about some of the players involved with Common Core and also said parents can opt out of the private data collection aspect of it, citing Ed Code 60615. Jackson cited Math standards statistics and also asked the board not to lower its standards by accepting Common Core for Oakdale schools.
Also in public comments, Fair Oaks Elementary School teacher Megan Reisz shared that the school applied and was accepted for a grant opportunity from Stanley Security for safer schools. The $200,000 grant is awarded through a voting process by the public. Anyone may vote for Fair Oaks school to win the grant by going online to stanleysaferschools.com or by texting Fair Oaks Oakdale to the number 99222. Online, Reisz said, your name and e-mail address must be provided to vote. Voting takes place now through Friday, Dec. 13.
The next regular meeting of the OJSUD Board of Trustees will be at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 9 at Oakdale City Council Chambers, 277 N. Second Ave.