Claremont school board endorses Prop 30, salutes outgoing CEF president

Members of the Claremont Unified School District Board of Education have unanimously voted to lend their support to Proposition 30.

At their Thursday meeting, each board member expressed frustration with the failure of state legislators to come up with a meaningful solution to California’s education funding crisis. While Governor Jerry Brown’s tax initiative is far from a permanent fix, it does buy the district time for maintaining crucial programs, said board member Sam Mowbray.

 “I feel I have no alternative but to support this resolution,” added board member Hilary LaConte.

The vote came after a brief report on Proposition 30, which will be on the ballot this November, by CUSD assistant superintendent of business services Lisa Shoemaker.

Ms. Shoemaker cited a few of the grim figures that have spurred the board’s support of the initiative, which aims to raise taxes for Californians who earn $250,000 or more annually for the next 7 years. Proposition 30 would also raise the state sales tax by a quarter-cent for the next 4 years.

If the tax initiative passes, it will net between $6 and $9 billion per year, Ms. Shoemaker noted. If it fails, K-12 schools will almost immediately be hit by a series of mid-year trigger cuts totaling $6 billion. California schools, including those in Claremont, stand to lose between $440 and $470 per pupil.

Ms. Shoemaker’s report was followed by an appeal by Joe Tonan, Sumner Elementary School teacher and past president of the Claremont Faculty Association, urging the board to unanimously endorse Proposition 30.

Claremont, he reminded the board, has cut $4.5 million from its education budget within the past 4 years. Should the tax initiative fail, he warned, the district will have to make an additional $3.1 million in cuts. This will have a huge impact.

“If Proposition 30 does not pass, the board will be faced with fiscal decisions like you have never faced before,” he said, noting worst-case scenarios such as a 3-week reduction in the school year and a precipitous rise in class sizes. 

“You, the board, know, and I trust the community knows, that in the Claremont Unified School District there is no more fat to cut. If there was any before, that was cut away years ago,” Mr. Tonan said. “In the last few years, it has been muscle, tissue and bone that have been sliced away.”

As an example of the damage to the CUSD budget in recent years, he shared that the size of freshman math classes at CHS has risen from 20 students to 37 students, precluding the kind of individualized instruction that comes with a smaller student-to-teacher ratio.

“Mr. Stark, earlier this year, you rightly said that teachers cannot continue to do ‘more with less.’ When cuts continue and continue, we will do less with less. We are at that point now,” Mr. Tonan said.

The CFA’s current president David Chamberlain, a Claremont High School English teacher and debate coach, also spoke up at the meeting.

It’s time that CUSD made a more significant contribution to the health premiums of Claremont teachers, he said. This year, the district made a one-time agreement to pay more than they have in past years toward employee health plans, in acknowledgement of the austerities CUSD staffers have faced in recent years.  That commitment needs to be made permanent, he said.

Any cost of living adjustments employees have received for the past 20 years have been far exceeded by inflation, Mr. Chamberlain emphasized. In fact, in the wake of the recession, there have been no such adjustments. Healthcare premiums have been skyrocketing as well, he noted. It’s a situation that is taking a distinct toll on Claremont faculty.

“More and more of your teachers are taking a second, part-time job to make ends meet,” he said.

Mr. Chamberlain’s comments were in response to a specific agenda item, the ratification of a new health care trust in which CUSD will participate called the Voluntary Employee Benefits Association (VEBA). A healthcare trust, Ms. Shoemaker explained, is a pool of school districts that have joined to leverage their purchasing power. The school’s previous healthcare pool recently dissolved after the largest district in the association pulled out of the trust.

Full-time employees will see no changes at this time to their health care premiums, Ms. Shoemaker explained. Some part-time instructors will pay more than they previously did for healthcare, she said, while others will pay less, depending on how many family members they wish to cover.

Both the board and Mr. Chamberlain thanked Ms. Shoemaker and her team for the time they put in while scrambling to find a new healthcare trust with the most competitive prices and the best benefits. Mr. Chamberlain also thanked Kevin Ward, assistant superintendent of human resources, and his team for going out to the school sites and working with the employees to ensure a smooth transition to their new healthcare plans.

Apparently, delicious baked goods are worth a thousand words. On behalf of the CFA, Mr. Chamberlain presented Ms. Shoemaker, Mr. Ward and other district employees with boxes of treats from Some Crust Bakery in a show of appreciation for their efforts.

Along with the cautionary financial notes, there was also cause for accolades on the board meeting agenda.

The board welcomed and swore in Marantha Croomes, a Claremont High School senior who will serve as a non-voting student board member for the 2012-2013 school year. They also bid a fond adieu to Liz Weigand, outgoing president of the Claremont Educational Foundation (CEF). 

Ms. Weigand was recognized for her outstanding efforts in raising funds to help support Claremont schools. CEF provides crucial funding for art and music instruction in the local elementary schools, and funds technology at El Roble and Claremont and San Antonio high schools.

 “There are a number of people who strive to make Claremont better, and I’d like to say that Liz Weigand is queen among these,” Mr. Stark said. 

Teams from Condit and Mountain View elementary schools also reported on progress toward their respective educational goals, known as the Single School Plans for Student Achievement. More on their areas of progress and areas they need to work on will be included in a future edition of the COURIER.

—Sarah Torribio




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