Dave Brooksher

Redwood Times

The Southern Humboldt Unified School District's Board of Trustees heard a budget report from Superintendent Catherine Scott at this month's meeting, which was held on Valentine's Day despite protest from trustee Blake Lehman. Ironically, Lehman was largely responsible for the scheduling decision.

Superintendent Scott's budget report dealt with a climate of continual cutbacks, where the predictable trend is to have less money each school year than the one before. Concerns were raised about competing with nearby districts, in some cases losing students to Redwoods Academy in Fortuna or the Arcata Elementary School District.

One bright spot in an otherwise bleak outlook is that the school can look forward to roughly $47,000 in funding as a result of the successful passage of Proposition 37 -- but those funds will be restricted to expenses associated with modernizing school campuses. The SHUSD also recently heard a presentation from Isom Associates, the consultants that helped the Arcata Elementary School District pass both a parcel tax and a school bond on the same ballot, addressing the possibility of a similar measure in next year's primary election.

"I'm the one that asked to put this on the agenda, and I have been very vocal proponent of this. I feel very strongly that the district is failing in terms of its finances and deficit spending. We can't do that next year. We're proposing to lose at least two teachers next year, and we can't give our teachers any more than a 1% raise," said trustee Michael Hoffman last Thursday night.

"I think we're at the point where this board is backed up against a wall," he added. "There is no money. So I don't see any other way to do this."

This was easily the most hotly contested issue on this month's agenda. The SHUSD Board of Trustees has already made four unsuccessful attempts to pass a parcel tax to fund local schools, which was also a matter of some discussion.

"How much more are you going to ask of property owners?" asked Trustee Scotty McClure -- who can often be depended on to provide an opposing perspective on these matters.

Miranda resident Jeff Henderson, who was appointed to the Board of Trustees to finish out former board member Susan Thompson's term, held a similar perspective to the one expressed by McClure.

"As a new board member, two of the four people to congratulate me said ‘no more taxes.'" Henderson said.

After roughly half an hour of heated debate, the board reluctantly voted to form a superintendent's subcommittee to assess the district's financial needs. Any information gathered may be used in the future for a public engagement campaign to gauge and build support for a parcel tax on the June 2014 ballot.

Trustee Blake Lehman expressed an interest in pursuing grant-based funding, rather than putting the matter on an upcoming ballot -- pointing to district's in Northern Humboldt that have reportedly used that strategy to some success.

*****

The district has announced plans to layoff employees in March due to limited funding and nearly half a million dollars in deficit spending. Due to privacy concerns for affected employees, the district is not publicly releasing any information about who will be dismissed. The Redwood Times asked SHUSD Superintendent Catherine Scott (who took the job in Summer of 2012) for written comment on this matter by email.

"Per state law, certificated employees who will be [subject to] lay-off due to budget reductions have to be notified by March 15th. SHUSD has deficit spent this year [by] approximately $400,000. We cannot sustain this level of deficit. There will need to be reductions in staffing to help offset the deficit," Scott wrote.

*****

One of the items on February's agenda involved labor negotiations with the Southern Humboldt Teachers Association, but that item was withdrawn by representative Aletta Sauer due to a problem with the written language that requires revision. This negotiation will be brought forward again at next month's meeting in March.

The district says they're currently ready to begin negotiations with the local members of the California School Employees Association, which includes school employees that are not certificated teachers -- such as bus drivers and janitorial staff.

It remains to be seen how upcoming lay-offs will affect class sizes and other staffing levels across the district's half-dozen campuses throughout Southern Humboldt.