School Board – Rumors Raise a Tide of Yellow

The Culver City School Board meeting on May 3 was at the Linwood E. Howe auditorium, and the color of the evening was yellow. After the tremendous crowd of red shirts at the previous week’s meeting at city hall, the venue was chosen to allow space for all those who wished to attend. What the board did not know beforehand was that it also allowed the parents of Lin Howe time to decorate the room with yellow posters declaring “We Love Lin Howe” and “All Schools Can Win.” Many of the red shirted teachers union members returned from last Tuesday’s meeting, and Lin Howe teachers were wearing yellow shirts to advertise their presence. All this yellow décor was due to a rumor that the board was considering cutting yet another Lin Howe kindergarten class. After losing a kindergarten last year, the tide of anxiety was high, and the color yellow had been chosen to signify Lin Howe supporters.

Vivian Chinelli, a teacher at Lin Howe, spoke at the podium with a voice of puzzled hurt. “ I love my school, please don’t cut my kindergarten.” Her praise for Superintendent Patti Jaffe and Assistant Gwenis Laura was effusive, exclaiming that she loved working with them. Vivian softened her protest by saying “You must be doing things quietly, things that I don’t hear about. I’m sure the same way that I clean up without making a lot of noise, you must be doing that, too.”

The tone of trust seemed to subdue the tide of anger over the rumor, and brought down the sense of defensiveness in the air. Nowhere on the agenda for the meeting was any item about cutting kindergarten classes. It was about cutting classified jobs in order to meet the needs of the ever-shrinking budget, and reminding the union of the bargaining issues.

School Board President Scott Zeidman went straight to the heart of the matter. “If we cut 5% across the board, then every single job would be saved. I hate to ask anyone to take a pay cut, because I believe all our employees are underpaid. Teachers and staff are undervalued by our state and out society, but that is something I don’t have the power to change.”

Zeidman continued, “I don’t want to make a single cut, but we are stuck between a rock and a hard place. Any cut we make is going to damage our kids and the kids coming in.”

When Board Member Kathy Paspalis spoke, she reminded the room that “we presented a tiered, across-the-board cut proposal in 2010, but unfortunately, that plan was rejected by the unions.” Paspalis added, Leaving behind tiered cuts and furlough days, we have to make these cuts – the state mandates it.”

Darkening the tone further, Paspalis said, “I went to a forum last Thursday, as part of a presentation on budget cuts, and you could have heard a pin drop in that crowded room. What we are doing now is nothing compared to what may be coming down the road. We are looking at cutting another [ADA] $1000 per kid. I don’t like to be the messenger, but this is what we are doing in this state.”

Zeidman returned to the charges that the cuts were only to the teachers and classified employees, and that no administrators had been cut. “We have cut 30% of the administration in the last two years. We would have had to have cut 98 teachers to make an equivalent cut, and we have only lost 10. That’s three percent. So administrative cuts have been ten times what has been cut from the classrooms.”

Reiterating again that the offer was still on the table, he said, “Nine furlough days will do it. We will not need to cut any jobs.”

As a powerful illustration, he stated, “If you have six people in a family and you only have food enough for four do you send two of them out, or do you eat less? We are asking you to eat less.”

By the end of the evening, nine jobs had been cut from classified staff, with 12 more positions set aside for further discussion. Further bargaining with both the teachers union and the classified employees union is expected.

Interestingly, the room was almost empty of yellow shirts by the end of the evening. Dozens of teachers had left before the board even began to vote on the classified positions. The posters around the room looked like driftwood on a beach; forlorn and abandoned. The tide had already gone out, but like any other force of nature, should be back soon.

Editor’s Note – There have been many comments posted. Please read the rest of the thread for more information and different perspectives.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

8 Comments

  1. I support taking 9 furlough days to save jobs! I do not think it will damage my 3 children that attend Culver City schools and, in the long run, it gives an equal cut for everyone! Although a tiered cut sounds fair and could also help with the financial woes our District is having, it appears that there isn’t the support for such a method. I would really like to see CCUSD employees and union members reevaluate the taking of more furlough days. I am not the only parent that supports this and I would like parents, and even teachers that agree with this, to comment about this possibility. Think about the fact that you’ll get the day off rather than working the same for less money and it will help keep jobs. This will hopefully be temporary and in the future we can get back the days lost and continue the longer school year that has been the norm. Thank you for listening and PLEASE voice your pros or cons. Something has to give and losing jobs isn’t where I, as a parent, would like to see the “give”.

  2. From my yellow-shirted colleagues and I: We came to show solidarity for equal distribution for all schools, based on information we had. When given the opportunity by the Board to speak on that, we were told that there was no plan, and that if we did have something to say, the next meeting would be the place to do it.

    Your article seems to insinuate that as business was conducted, our interest or commitment waned. Nothing could be further from the truth – We didn’t give up, we stayed to do the thing that we did. When it became evident that the process had begun, and there was no room for input or participation, we left to go see our kids, or get some sleep. There is no “public participation” portion in the actions of the Board, otherwise that room would have been much different. If the course of action for the Board is as inevitable (albeit distasteful) as they say, then I don’t see the profit of any concerned party to sit and witness their own execution.

    You were right about one thing, though: the tide hasn’t retreated, just gone out. It’ll definitely be back.

  3. Judith, what I object to is your characterization that Lin Howe parents’ actions were triggered by rumor. This is inaccurate, unfair, and smacks of the dismissiveness with which many at Lin Howe feel members of the school board have greeted their concerns about this issue. That’s what makes so many of us what you call “defensive.” We like to call it “Viking mad.”

    What’s more, I’m sure it is not lost on the public that there are school board members whose children are currently at El Marino, where there are 6 kindergarten classrooms that apparently are not under consideration for closure.

  4. Editor’s response – I’m deeply grateful to everyone for their comments. I am certainly not focusing this as a school versus school issue. I think that when people are concerned about an issue, they should stay for the whole meeting – AND YET – I too have been know to leave meetings early to relieve the babysitter or take are of some other parental duties.

    Crossroads cannot be an effective tool for the community without your input, and I have no pretense towards the divine right of infallibility.

    I will write more in regards to the issue of language – I don’t consider “rumor” to be a derogatory term – and I have plenty of friends who are proud to call themselves Vikings- a proper noun with some hefty history behind it.

    Please forward the post and send people to the site; whatever your thoughts are, I am pleased to publish them.

  5. Judith
    As a teacher at Lin Howe I wanted to clarify a few misstatements in your article.
    1. The teachers did not “decorate the room” with the yellow signs. This was done by our great parents, in support of our fantastic kindergarten program.
    2. Lin Howe POSSIBLY being cut back to 2 kindergartens was NOT a rumor, but something that was presented to the staff and parents from the district administration. Just because certain board members claimed ignorance doesn’t make it a rumor.
    3. “Dozens of teachers” did NOT leave. All of my colleagues were there until the end, supporting our classified friends. Just because we weren’t wearing easily identifiable yellow shirts, doesn’t mean we were not present to the end.

    I would hope that you would update your article to give the community a clearer vision of what actually took place on Tuesday night, and take away the negative light in which you placed on our staff.

  6. Elizabeth, I don’t think your last comment about the school board member’s ties to El Marino was a fair one. A lot of people look at the number of kindergarten classes at El Marino, compare that to the numbers at the other schools, and don’t look any further. But El Marino is really two smaller elementary schools glued together, sharing a building and some resources. The Japanese program has two kindergartens, making it one of the smaller programs in the district (if not the smallest). The Spanish program has four kindergartens, which I think is in line with our other schools (I’m not certain, I don’t know this year’s figures for each school). It’s not really possible to switch between these two programs…a child can’t just stop studying in one new language and switch to another without starting over!

    So looking at El Marino as having 6 Kindergartens is deceptive, since it’s not really 6 at all. It’s actually 2 and 4.

    As for the other comparisons I’ve heard about school resources (not from you, but elsewhere), well, these two schools share one library with a part-time librarian, one nurse one day a week, one music teacher, one computer lab (mostly funded by parents), and one parent-funded art teacher. And of course one principal and one set of office staff. So El Marino often ends up with fewer resources per child…the part-time librarian serves 750+ kids, for example, including re-shelving all the books they check out each week, while I believe some schools enjoy a full-time librarian serving a much smaller number of kids. The art teacher is able to visit each classroom once every three weeks with a traveling cart, but some elementary schools enjoy weekly art classes in a dedicated art room.

    Finally…and this is a painful reality, but real nevertheless…both of the programs at El Marino have a waiting list to get in. It just doesn’t make sense to make cuts to programs that Culver City residents are lining up to get into. It would just mean that even fewer children would have the chance to study another language.

    I feel that strengthening all of our Culver City Schools is the right solution, not attacking each other. Speaking personally, when we signed up for the El Marino lottery, I knew that if we didn’t get in there, we’d miss out on a foreign language but still be attending a great school. That’s why we moved to Culver City, because ALL the schools are good, and better than the ones where we were living before. We just need to find a way to strengthen our schools despite the poor economy and the lack of funding from the state. It may take a miracle, but I hope we’ll all be able to work together to try to create one.

  7. Casey –
    Thank you for writing. This is just exactly the way this process should work.
    Hurrah for parents putting up signs; it’s always great when people get involved.
    The possibility of the kindergarten change was a rumor on my end, because I was unaware that the administration had met with anyone or announced anything. I simply heard people talking who did not seem to have solid evidence. I did not hear any board members claiming ignorance- I was uninformed.
    I make no claims to omniscience.
    Oral information is not always incorrect; rumor is not a dirty word.
    I did not count the number of Lin Howe teachers in the room, but I noticed that all the seats in front of me, which had been filled by people wearing yellow shirts, were all empty by the time the board began voting.

    Rather than reading the “tide is out” metaphor as a synonym for retreat, I meant it in the sense that the moment was over, but would certainly return.
    As for updating, I think the best way to do that is just to add a note and make sure everyone who reads the article continues onto read the thread.

    My position as Culver City Crossroads is not to declaim absolute truths, but to offer a place for people to share their perspectives, and hopefully come to a better understanding.
    My most genuine thanks to you for adding your vision, and keeping the dialogue open.

  8. Judith, “rumor” is commonly accepted as having a negative connotation in American English. It is a stretch, and not responsible journalism, to ignore that just because you personally are accepting of the social role of rumor. If the information, which you describe in your first posted version of this story as “unconfirmed rumor,” was unconfirmed by you, you should have stated that it was you or your publication that had not had the opportunity to confirm it. You are surely aware that your headline and the use of “rumor” elsewhere in the piece is inflammatory. Yet you want the people from the school affected to be impartial and dispassionate?

    Sara, I have and had mixed feelings about my suggestion that there are some personal biases involved in the Board’s unwillingness to consider cutting a class at El Marino. But it keeps coming up for me. Why are the four Spanish kindergartens at EM the only ones not apparently on the table? I would be as critical of this if it were El Rincon, Farragut or La Ballona that seemed immune to reduced enrollment.

    I accept your argument that El Marino could be considered two separate schools. And it would be a death knell to cut a Japanese kindergarten class–going from 2 to 1 class would be as dangerous to the integrity of that program as it would be to cut another school from 4 to 2 kindergartens in just two years. But the Japanese school shares a home with a school that has 4 intact kindergartens when other schools have been reduced just the previous year. There is another Spanish immersion program for parents to apply to—at La Ballona. Refusing to ever consider limiting the kindergarten enrollment for the El Marino Spanish immersion school seems to be preserving too many resources for the few kids selected for a privileged program,at the expense of kids across the district who did not gain access or choose that option over a general primary education.

    No one seriously thinks that we’d just dump Spanish immersion kindergarteners into Japanese first grade classes. Nonsense. If you had 60 Spanish kindergarteners in 2011, you’d only need 3 Spanish first-grade classes in 2012,and so on. Six years later, that low grade level would be on to middle school, and the school would have cycled the cumbersome low enrollment grade out of it’s program. Just a year after Lin Howe is done with its cumbersome entering class of 2010.

    Lin Howe and other schools do not have a dedicated art teacher, nor a full-time librarian paid for by the district. Principal Amy Anderson acted as librarian for Lin Howe for a big chunk of last school year. The dedicated art studio at Farragut was funded entirely by parent groups,just as your language aides are—this was the El Marino parent groups’ choice as to how to target its truly impressive fundraising efforts.

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