An emotionally packed crowd, many carrying picket signs, turned out for the monthly meeting of Ramona Unified School District Board of Trustees to protest the laying off of 32 classified employees.
Despite the protests and pleas made to the board, the trustees unanimously approved the layoffs.
“What is so disheartening dealing with these 32 positions and people, this is the beginning,” board president Dan Lopez said, indicating there will more layoffs in coming months.
He went on to say it is “very, very difficult” for the trustees to face “people-centered types of decisions in front of us… Being in a small community does not make it easy.”
Each of the trustees expressed their concerns about the pending layoffs.
“This is a small community,” Kim Lasley agreed. “On this list (of layoffs), I know many of these people. It doesn’t matter who we know, we do have to go by the contract agreement. It has to go by seniority.”
The layoffs and other cutbacks in the school district are necessary because of lack of funding from the state Department of Education and other cuts being made in education statewide.
“We already reduced $7 million out of our budget the past several years,” Trustee Rodger Dohm said. “That’s a tremendous amount of money. We have done everything we can to keep it (budget cuts) out of the classroom. It’s impossible to do it… We’re not just cutting positions. We know that those positions represent people.”
By cutting the 32 positions, the district will save $230,000 in the current school year and an annual projected ongoing savings of $730,000.
Assistant Superintendent Anne Staffieri said the layoffs “will not solve all of our budget problems” but are necessary, “due to reductions in funding for the current school year and in an effort to keep the cuts as far away as possible” from the classrooms.
The trustees did agree, however, to pull one position from the layoff list until it can be further researched.
Wesley Clowers told the board he does not understand why he was included in the layoffs because his position of warehouse delivery driver is paid out of food services and not the district’s general fund.
“I go above and beyond of what’s asked of my job,” Clowers said. He explained many duties he performs to help other employees in food services, including mopping the floor.
“I can’t, for the life of me, understand why you would cut a position that brings money into the district,” he said.
Superintendent Robert Graeff explained that the duties of the warehouse delivery driver would be taken over by the person who currently delivers mail throughout the district.
Jim King, president of the local chapter of the California Service Employees Association, called the layoffs “out of line.”
“The classified employees have been taking the brunt of the cuts for the past five years,” he said.
He also expressed his concern for the safety of the students with the night custodial positions being eliminated. In addition, he suggested the board and management should meet with classified employees and ask for their ideas on where money can be saved.
“Ramona classified employees are here to help,” King said. “All you have to do is ask. Making us suffer is not right or fair.”
The positions being eliminated include bus driver instructor, accountant, clerks, receptionist, secretary, attendance/health technician, instructional and special education para-educators, student support services technician, groundskeepers and custodians.
In other business, Emily Rajcic, associated student body (ASB) president at Mountain Valley Academy, and Larry Hofer, faculty advisor, made a presentation on the Warrior Foundation. Students raised $2,450 by selling Christmas trees along with donations from the Rotary Club of Ramona and the local Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Evelyn McCormick, a Ramona resident and member of the board of the Warrior Foundation-Freedom Station, accepted a giant-sized check facsimile from students Alec La Rosa and Dylan Loftis.
Students also volunteered at Balboa Naval Medical Center in San Diego and plan to continue their association with the foundation, Hofer said.
Trustee Lasley announced three students from the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) at Ramona High School have been invited to attend Veteran’s Day ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. next November.
“They will be up on stage with the president,” Lasley said, adding she plans to go along as a chaperone.
The next meeting of the RUSD governing board begins at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 in the Wilson Administration Center, 720 Ninth St.