Resolution passed by SUHSD board to eliminate 237 positions in upcoming school year

SUHSD+Superintendent+Karen+Janney%2C+Ed.D+%28left%29+sits+next+to+Board+of+Trustees+President+Frank+Tarantino+while+a+speaker+addressed+the+Board.+Tarantino+was+one+of+three+board+members+to+vote+in+favor+of+the+Resolution+No.+4658.

Lucia Rivera

SUHSD Superintendent Karen Janney, Ed.D (left) sits next to Board of Trustees President Frank Tarantino while a speaker addressed the Board. Tarantino was one of three board members to vote in favor of the Resolution No. 4658.

By Abraham Zepeda and Lucia Rivera

Teachers, librarians and community members from across the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD) marched in union before joining others at 6:00 p.m. for the SUHSD Regular Board Meeting on Feb. 24. Several hours later, after 10 p.m. the Board of Trustees voted 3-2 in favor of Resolution No. 4658, effectively eliminating 237 employee positions for the 2020-2021 school year. These cuts include the reduction of the Learning Center programs at all schools in the SUHSD and all librarians.

The meeting this Monday took place in the Multi-Purpose-Room at Chula Vista Middle (CVM) to account for the greater number of community members expected to attend the meeting. To further accommodate the hundreds of attendees, garage style doors were open at the back of the room to allow for more people to hear what was being said during the meeting.

Resolution  No. 4658, which was voted in favor of, was argued against by a dozens of students, staff and parents. One specific point addressed was the elimination of 32 Learning Center teacher positions and 12 Learning Center counselor positions for the upcoming school year. Learning Center students who attended the meeting highlighted their circumstances that made Learning Center valuable to them. These circumstances included homelessness, teen pregnancy, being suicidal and being on the autism spectrum. Currently five staff members make up the Learning Center staff at Bonita Vista High (BVH).

“What would happen to the Learning Center students [if the resolution is passed] is [that] they will be incorporated back into the main campuses,” Director of Grants and Communications Manny Rubio said prior to the meeting. “We just want to make sure that we offer our students as personalized experiences as we can.”

Special and General Education Learning Center teacher Thomas Maier echoed the sentiments shared by speakers during the board meeting about the importance of the Learning Center program when he stated that the highlights of his 15 year long career as a Learning Center teacher in the SUHSD was “getting kids diplomas they never would have got.”

“Kids are about to quit and ‘that’s it!’ and go to the carwash. [Then] they come through here and I remind them ‘no you’re not’ and then we work with them as individuals and figure out a plan that works. Up until not long ago I’d never had a kid that didn’t get their diploma,” Maier said. “We’re alternative education, we are not credit recovery any more. We do have kids that come here for that specific reason, but that’s not why we’re here.”

Preceding the meeting, hundreds of community members filled the outside of the school to make their cause seen by the community. The Sweetwater Education Association (SEA) organized the picket line outside of the meeting location. The SEA group discussed the issues they hoped to address in the board meeting during the hours beforehand. The group marched down the street from CVM to H street in downtown Chula Vista and around the corner in efforts to spread awareness for their cause.

At the beginning of the meeting, the 87 signed up speakers were notified that they would be given one minute and thirty seconds rather than the traditional three minutes given at most board meetings. This did not deter many speakers from speaking for several additional minutes on a variety of subjects. While some community members demanded “cuts from the top,” other staff members suggested working together to improve the SUHSD budget crisis of over 30 million dollars.

Raul Sanchez, a parent of a Learning Center student, offered a solution to the Board of Trustees which would involve the community helping to raise funds for the district.

Lucia Rivera
Bonita Vista High (BVH) counselors Lorena Serrano (left) and Lelaine Torres (right) stand near the back of the crowd on Feb. 24 at the SUHSD board meeting. Torres’ shirt read “Keep calm and let a school counselor handle it”.

“Heavy is the head that wears the crown,” Sanchez said. “All of us together can solve this problem. Forget the cuts, let’s grow.”

Similarly, one Foreign Language And Global Studies (FLAGS) student suggested a district wide fundraiser, stating to the board, “you don’t need to take the easy way out.”

Board of Trustees President Frank Tarantino was the last to speak on Resolution No. 4658 before it went to a vote, citing other times where layoffs occured as arguably fair solutions and then voted in favor of the resolution.

“The statement by Mr. Tarantino was disheartening because he has been a loyal union member and is sitting there saying that we’re not going to the [negotiating] table and that we have gone to the table 17 times and [we] asked ‘give us your plan we’ll work with you,’” SEA President Julie Walker said.

In addition to cuts to Learning Center staff positions, all 23 librarian positions, 25 social science teacher positions, 28 english teacher positions, 18 general science teacher positions and more were approved to be cut for the next school year. A seniority point criteria system will be used to identify which teachers will not be offered a job after this semester.

“We’ll do everything we can to keep as many of our staff as we can, we’ll find out what our members are comfortable with as far as working with [SUHSD], but they gotta come [up] with a plan so we know where they stand,” Walker said.

This story was originally published on The Crusader on February 25, 2020.