Weathering fiscal storm

Emotions are running high at Ramona Unified, particularly after Monday night's special board meeting that packed the high school's Performing Arts Wing as speaker after speaker pleaded with trustees not to impose cuts that will take chunks out of teachers' May and June paychecks.

It was clear that all spoke from their heart, including school trustees who believe that, without these cuts, the district will be unable to pay its bills and thus faces possibility of state takeover.

What's next? No one knows. With talk of recall and strike, everyone involved is anxious, and many are angry.

We doubt anyone wants to see a teachers' strike, just as we doubt that the trustees want to hurt teachers. Each has a child or children in Ramona schools. Does anyone truly believe that any of them want to hurt the quality of education here? They're doing what they believe is best.

Lots of history preceded Monday's vote. During the worst recession many of us have ever seen, Ramona trustees protected the teachers. While teachers in other districts took salary cuts, paid a portion of their health benefits, and had shorter school years to see those districts through the economic crisis, Ramona trustees chose various means — including cutting perhaps where they shouldn't have — so teachers did not experience cuts in salary and benefits. Some even received step and column increases for additional education or reaching a longevity benchmark.

The deficit spending couldn't continue, particularly with a $34 million debt from a previous board staring the district in the face. Teacher Grant McNiff refers to it as "the fiscal nightmare called COP (certificate of participation, aka loan), and he's right.

It's all in the fact-finding report available online on the district's website, ramonausd.net, and the teachers union website, ramonateachers.com. Read it. It presents both sides clearly. A great deal of other information also is at those two sites.

There are no good guys and bad guys, just people doing their best to get through what is Ramona's crisis. Because there was no settlement earlier in the school year, teachers will experience smaller paychecks for the next two months. In the next two years, cuts will be evenly distributed throughout the year.

The negotiations door apparently is always open. Prop. 30 may provide a bigger windfall than anticipated, enrollment may start to climb after years of decline, and an upcoming community workshop tentatively set for May 11 may offer options and solutions to put the district on more firm fiscal ground. Let's not cry uncle just yet. The Saturday workshop will be a community brainstorming session where selling district land, consolidating schools, putting another bond bid before voters, and refinancing the loan likely will be among ideas discussed.

One speaker Monday said a coalition of parents is forming. On another front, a group calling itself Friends of Ramona Unified Schools (FORUS) has started and plans to work on needed projects at the schools.

Fault finding and personal attacks don't solve problems. Communities do.

   
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