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July 8, 2009 > Difficult times for Fremont Unified School District

Difficult times for Fremont Unified School District

By Miriam G. Mazliach

"There must be money somewhere to save the jobs," pleaded concerned parent, Hugh Ng, speaking before the Fremont School Board.

Like other school districts throughout the state, Fremont Unified was required to submit a budget to the County Office of the Department of Education by June 30. This was quite a painful and arduous process for all involved, especially the Board and the community.

At this was the final Board of Education meeting of the school year, a huge contingent of parents and students came out in force to voice their concerns, particularly a group representing Ardenwood Elementary School.

Ardenwood parents spoke to save their Science prep teacher. They commented that student academic performance would be adversely affected. Parents suggested sharing Science prep teachers with other schools, if feasible.

But the most effective and heartfelt pleas came from several young students, particularly, Vivek Datta, a 10-year-old student from Ardenwood Elementary.

Datta explained, "The 4th and 5th graders currently have Science Lab taught by a Science Prep teacher two times a week. I was very sad to know that we may lose our Science Lab. How is this fair? Science is one of my most favorite subjects and science lab is what makes it actually exciting for us. Reading only in a Science textbook will not help us do well in the STAR test or build a strong foundation. How will future students like me be inspired to do more beyond what a textbook teaches?"

Responding to the many Ardenwood parents, Board Vice President, Lara York said, "I appreciate all of you coming and speaking in one voice. We agree with you on many points and recognize how all of this is affecting students and employees in the district. We do have 45 days to revise our budget if we need to."

Parents spoke of a Donation Task Force or Endowment Fund for parents who wish to be proactive during this budget crisis and donate money toward the school district. A parent representative from the Ardenwood group donated $100 as a show of support.

Bill Stephens, Assistant Superintendent of Business, discussed the economic downturn, saying there had been three reductions of funding in the past 9 months. "The state estimates our funding at the 2005/2006 level. Stimulus funds are for one time only and not enough. We are facing reductions of $11.4 million and $1.9 million in categorical programs. A reduction of $17 million and $2.4 million in categorical funds is anticipated for the 2009/10 school year. Currently, we are using one-time stimulus money to save positions."

During the Open Discussion period, a librarian at Washington High School presented the Board with a petition signed by over 700 students, against cutting back on library personnel hours.

Parent Ng commented, "We know that there is money somewhere that we need to re-look at again. Parents need to raise money and be part of the solution. What about the $1.8 million Block grant for schools and libraries? What other improvements can be made? Why are we continuing to give pay raises? Don't make cuts; a risk for the kids."

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Parvin Ahmadi responded, "Regarding the school's Library Block grant (SLIBG), each School Site Council decides how their money is to be spent. It is based on data received on the achievement gap of pupils."

She continued, "Some of the funds were spent on copiers, substitute teachers, instructional materials, and supplies, staff development, intervention (tutoring of students), peer education and the purchase of library books."

Added Board member, Bryan Gebhardt, "This is unlike any budget cycle we've ever seen and we definitely have some work to do on the budget. We've been working hard to preserve every dollar. The staff is doing with less this year to better balance the budget. Paramount to sacrifice is the fact that we are looking at a work staff reduction of 2.4 percent. We owe it to the community to look at every option possible as we owe it to the students."

"We have huge deficits," said Board President Larry Sweeney, echoing the sentiments of those present. "We had $8 million in reserve and used it up this year to continue programs. Many budget reductions are expected for next year and we may have to lay off people mid-year. I have a feeling the cuts are even going to be worse next year. "There is 20 percent less money to provide services. If we find extra dollars, we will put them back where we can."

After additional discussion and commentary the Board voted and passed the budget with 4 ayes to 1 nay (Wu).

The day after the Board of Education meeting, Fremont Unified School District released information that the Teacher's Association had agreed to a 2.67 percent work year reduction, and Elementary prep time for teachers will be reduced by 66 percent.

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