Wednesday’s meeting of the Board of Trustees for the Bear Valley Unified School District, for which itemized budget cuts of nearly one million dollars were on the agenda, opened with public comment, which several Big Bear High School students took advantage of. First among those to the podium for the meeting at Big Bear Middle School was sophomore Nadia Jenkins, who spoke of her dream to be a doctor and her hopes that BVUSD would continue the French language program. “I’ve tried online programs for language learning,” she said, “and it’s not the same not to have a relationship with a teacher.” In response to this, BVUSD’s Director of Personnel Tim Larson shared the good news, announcing, “We will have a French program at the high school—a condensed one, but the exciting news is there will be a French program.”
Additional public comment included a plea for the elementary strings program, which includes 75 students at three schools, and support for the Trustees—President Beverly Grabe, Randall Putz, Debra Sarkisian, Ken Turney and Paul Zamoyta—during the difficult funding crisis at the state level, which has resulted in the need for an additional $980,000 in cuts over this school year and next, in order to keep BVUSD from bankruptcy. As noted by a grateful Raven Uhler, the high school’s ASB President, “You’ve made some very difficult decisions and I support you 100%. I really appreciate you guys, and you deserve to know you’ve made a difference in my life.”
On the table for Trustees’ approval were three budget recommendation plans submitted by the Budget Advisory Committee, for which Superintendent Dr. Nancy Wright is the non-voting chair (however, she was not present for the April 28 meeting, due to a family emergency). “All facets were represented,” said the district’s Director of Business Services Walter Con of the BAC, “and everyone who wanted to be heard was heard.” Still, as far as budget cuts, Con paraphrased BAC parent representative Mary Kelso when noting, “We’ve already picked the low hanging fruit.”
So, Plans B and C of the budget committee call for the elimination or reduction of many programs, among those elementary strings, athletic travel budgets, board stipends, intervention and GATE programs, and budgets for maintenance and school sites. However, the just-announced agreement with BVEA, the teachers’ union, adding one furlough day to this school year, does allow a little wiggle room with funding cuts, which prompted a thank you from the district’s Larson.
President Grabe opened the cut adoption discussion with, “Plan A and B both depend on negotiations. We can’t make a decision on money that might or might not occur.” True, ongoing negotiations with both BVEA and CSEA, the classified staff union, continue through May 19, so the Plan A of an across-the-board salary cut of 10-16% can not yet be counted on as a funding solution until those negotiations are complete; Plan B includes the prospect of $522,000 in cuts through additional furloughs and salary reductions of potentially one percent. The school board discussed the idea of accepting the budget cut recommendations, with Zamoyta suggesting, “Depending on how negotiations go, other funding sources go, all of this can be rescinded.” Trustees Sarkisian and Grabe hoped to keep the strings program intact–on a reduced budget of $12,000 (rather than $20,000) as presented by strings teacher Sharon Rizzo—though, as a group, they wanted to hold on implementation of any cuts until the union negotiations are ratified on or before May 26 and the May Revised Budget available on May 21.
So, in a unanimous vote, the school board moved to accept Plans A, B and C and, once negotiations are complete, they will reconvene on June 4 to determine if Plan A (outlining salary rollbacks) is feasible, otherwise Plan B with program cuts plus $522,000 in negotiated items will be implemented; if neither of these can be achieved, Plan C will be adopted, as Plan C incorporates 13 program, department budget and transportation cuts, in addition to the need for an additional $522,000 in layoffs and management concessions.
Update: Per BVUSD on June 2, the school board will not be making final budget cut determinations on June 4; no meeting date has yet been set.