School district works for balance in budget crisis, official says

Ramona Unified School District (RUSD) may take a hit of $7,156,000, or 13 percent of its $55 million budget, Assistant Superintendent David Ostermann said during his budget presentation at the school board meeting last Thursday.

Factored into next year’s budget must be increased cost related to salaries and benefits for RUSD teachers and other employees. Automatic increases in pay of $750,000 for employee “step and column” advancements for years with the district and additional education are anticipated. Another $650,000 increase is projected for health and welfare benefits.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature are an impasse in budget negotiations, Ostermann said as he gave a brief outline of each side’s proposals and how they would affect RUSD. Schwarzenegger has said the reduction to the revenue limit for California’s schools would be 2.52 percent, but Ostermann argued that the reduction for the 2008-09 school year must be accounted for in addition to the 2.52 percent reduction in the 2009-10 school year.

RUSD has laid out its counterproposals, trying to find ways to reduce spending in various departments and programs without having too much of an adverse effect on the students. According to Ostermann’s presentation, the district’s number one priority is the education of Ramona’s children. The school district is working to find a way to achieve a balance between that and addressing the fiscal crisis, he said.

School officials encouraged everyone to remain optimistic. School Board member Dawn Perfect said the budget problems “should not overshadow the students’ accomplishments.” Several reports were presented during the meeting outlining projects and accomplishments of students in the district.

In his quarterly report required as the result of a court settlement in a class action lawsuit against the state in 2004, Supt. Robert Graeff, Ed.D., said there were no complaints regarding dissatisfaction with district materials, facilities, teacher vacancies and misassignments of teachers to the school board.

In other business during the Jan. 22 meeting, the board heard a report about the National Junior Honor Society (NJHS) at Olive Peirce Middle School (OPMS). After a brief introduction by advisers Pixie Sulser and Ingrid Forbes, the students informed the board what they had done:

• They learned about preparing for college early, including getting ready for tests like the SAT, PSAT and ACT.

• They visited San Diego State University (SDSU) and learned there was more to a college campus than they had realized.

• They held a mock election in which students were allowed to choose between Barack Obama and John McCain. Turnout was outstanding, as nearly every student participated.

• They promoted breast cancer awareness and raised money for research.

• They donated food, clothes and other items to troops stationed in Iraq.

• They sent cards to Walter Reed Medical Center to injured soldiers.

Sulser and Forbes closed with a few remarks to commend the students for the work they had done, and to provide some extra information to the public about the projects, particularly College Awareness, the cornerstone of NJHS this year. College Awareness, said Sulser, is an attempt to get all students preparing early for college through the efforts of NJHS students.

After the NJHS presentation, the board heard a few more reports. Ramona Teachers Association  (RTA) President Donna Braye-Romero thanked Graeff for inviting California School Employee Association (CSEA) and RTA representatives to the School Services of California budget workshop. Montecito High School Student Board Member Jessica Pruitt reported that students are working on their portfolios, the Landscaping Class is working on beautification projects for the campus, and the STAR club is planning activities for students. Ramona High School Student Board Member Dodge McIntosh said the students had given positive feedback regarding the new finals schedule, which gave students space between finals to provide time to study for each one.

School Board President Rodger Dohm then gave community members the opportunity to address the board. Karen Hess thanked the board for getting the softball field built, but said she remained critical that the issue had to go to the courts to be settled. She said she would fight the proposal to pay the settlement in 10 annual installments, a motion the board approved unanimously. Betsy Vargo said that the school needs its classified employees as well as its educators. To fire the former to save the latter, she said, would be a big mistake and would hurt the students.

The meeting moved on to other school projects when Eileen Hughley, Jennifer McSparran and Adrienne Moreland presented their report on the Lindamood-Bell Phoneme Sequencing (LiPS) program. The LiPS program is designed to use imagery to help students with learning difficulties. They said the program had been very successful, using an example student called “Fred” to illustrate the point.

   
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