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February 17, 2010 > Fremont School Board meeting highlights

Fremont School Board meeting highlights

By Miriam G. Mazliach

Summary of Fremont Unified School Board Meeting held February 10, 2010

Parcel Tax:
Superintendent Milt Werner explained that the district is moving forward to place a Parcel Tax on a future ballot. To pass it would require a two-thirds vote, so a committee is organizing to roll out a plan to get support from parents and the community. "All monies raised from the Parcel Tax would be controlled and dispensed locally, targeting money directly to students," says Werner. "We look forward to getting more local control over our money."

Spelling Bee:
Winners of the Fremont District-wide Elementary School Spelling Bee were announced:
First Place - Amrith Krishnan, sixth grade, Mission San Jose Elementary
Second Place - Albert Zhang, fifth grade, Forest Park Elementary
Third Place - Sahiti Nandyala, sixth grade, Warm Springs Elementary
Fourth Place - Jaiveer Singh, fourth grade, Maloney Elementary
Fifth Place - Kiran Kittur, sixth grade, Chadbourne Elementary
Sixth Place - Myles Grabau, fourth grade, Azevada Elementary

These local winners will participate in the County Spelling Bee to be held on March 27 at Canyon Middle School in Castro Valley.

Potential Budget Cuts:
As a continuation of budget reductions discussed last month, more cuts are anticipated for next year, targeting a deficit estimated between $25-27 million for 2010-11.

Not in priority order, this is a listing of potential budget reductions of more than $33 million, as outlined by Bill Stephens, Assistant Superintendent of Business:

Adult School Reductions ($2,000,000)
Secondary Class Size Elimination ($1,395,044)
Deferred Maintenance ($200,000)
Art & Music Block Grant ($437,353)
Routine Restricted Maintenance Account ($1,000,000)
Operations & Grounds Reductions ($215,756)
Custodial Reductions ($251,070)
Increase Grade K-3 Class Size 30:1 ($4,460,000)
Elementary Transportation Reduction ($122,000)
Tier III Program Percentage Contribution ($494,758)
Elementary PREP Reduction ($6,844,490)
District-Wide Stipend Reduction ($468,868)
District-Wide Pay Cut (4 percent) ($6,744,428)
District-Wide Work Year Reduction - 5 days ($8,614,316)

The most devastating amount of cuts would be to the Fremont Adult School which is being targeted for a $2 million reduction. Speakers from the community, many of them English language learners, pleaded with the Board to re-consider such a drastic cut, touting the benefits derived from the school which has helped them with career goals and life skills.

Parents and students also spoke out against the potential cuts to school counselor positions, already at an all-time low. According to Meg Moore, a counselor at Hopkins Junior High School, "Over the past three years, 50 percent of the counseling positions have been lost. We were told there would be a reduction, but then we were blind-sided when informed another six positions would be cut." She added, "A lot of the students we work with will be underserved."

Jessica Ting, a student at Mission San Jose High School explained that cutting one of the positions there, from three counselors to two, would result in an absurd ratio of over 1,000 students per counselor. Students would not be able to get any practical assistance with college planning, receive important letters of recommendation or additional help as needed for personal or school issues that might arise. "It's unfathomable for students to lose crucial guidance," said Ting.

Responding to comments, Board trustee Lily Mei stated, "I think it's really important that students have someone to talk to, supporting our students like our counselors. We need to look elsewhere," said Mei. "No one believes any of these cuts are right."

Previously, one-time money had been used to maintain the six counseling positions, which are being slated for lay off. Voting on the final budget reductions will take place at the February 24 meeting of the Fremont Unified School Board.

Participation in Honors Classes:

Several hours were spent discussing the criteria for Honors classes at the Junior High level and suggested changes.

Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, Parvin Ahmadi explained, "We started working on this issue three years ago to expand access to Honors classes to students. Many students told me that they wished to have the opportunity to be in an Honors class. We need to give kids a chance to shine at what they are able to do," said Ahmadi.

Kathy Ashford, Director of Secondary Education, explained that the District looked at the various Honors classes at the Junior High level. "In some cases we found discrepancies regarding GATE students in these classes and we also wanted to know how other students could take these classes," said Ashford.

GATE students are automatically eligible for honors classes, even if their CST (Star) test scores in grades seven - eight, fall below the 481 score, as required by the district to enter the program. Additionally, there appears to be a variation from school to school regarding their requirement standards for Honors programs.

Ultimately, the Board made no recommended changes to the Honors English and Honors Science programs for this year. Staff was directed to look at obtaining more input from Department chairs and investigating placement tests in those subject areas.

Lara York, President of the School Board, expressed her disappointment, "I think waiting for another year is a disservice to those students who didn't score 481. We have an uneven distribution of students taking Honors classes and as a School Board we shouldn't hold back from making changes," said York.

One change that was approved and passed by the Board was the elimination of the Honors History program as all recommendations agreed that a heterogeneous grouping of students in this subject area was beneficial and worked best.

Ahmadi adds, "My ultimate wish is to be able to say in every one of our classes, that the level of rigor found in Honors classes exists in every classroom and every student is engaged in learning."

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