The board of trustees at Southern Humboldt Unified School District reluctantly passed a motion to notify an undisclosed number of employees that they will be laid off for the 2013-2014 school year. The layoffs could affect the equivalent of 4.7 full-time employees but that could be spread out among as many as 14 individuals. First notice of the pending layoffs must be given to affected personnel no later than this Friday, March 15.
"Quite honestly, March is the month of the year that I hate the most, because of this. I’ve done this now for six years," said superintendent Catherine Scott, "and it’s the most horrific part of my job."
"This is happening at every school district in California," added trustee Blake Lehman. "Think about how many people that is, having to scramble, having to figure out who we’re going to lay-off, who we’re going to notice, and how many families that affects."
Not all of the employees that received notice will necessarily lose their jobs. Some of them may be able to stay, depending on if and how the district’s budget outlook changes over the next six months.
More than half of the specific courses at risk of being defunded are vocational and technical classes, which could be vitally important to the job prospects of students that do not go on to college. Affected courses could include art, music, ceramics, landscape art, digital media, broadcast journalism, business algebra, accounting and engineering.
"This is the one shot for a lot of our vocational kids to get into career tracks," said former trustee Susan Thompson. "I just have to voice my disappointment that vocational programs seem to get ... singled out."
This adversely affects morale across the district’s half-dozen campuses, according to Jennifer Kubik of the Southern Humboldt Teachers Association. Reduced staffing levels could lead to class sizes of as many as 30 students.
"Thirty-plus students in the classroom is at the elementary school educationally unsound," said Kubik, who is a teacher and also the parent of a student at South Fork.
"It’s most definitely with regret that this has to be brought forward," said superintendent Catherine Scott. "I agree with all the sentiments that were shared today - and I wish that we weren’t in this situation."
The district could receive additional funding estimated to be from $83,000 to $230,000 from the state, but those funds won’t offset the district’s $400,000 in deficit spending this year, and more than half a million in projected deficit spending next year.
"It’s just a formality. I’m a little disappointed in the board," said John Hockett, one of the two members of the public who attended yesterday’s meeting, who would’ve preferred to see the board give the layoffs a more critical analysis and propose alternatives. "Whatever the administrator offers, they’re going to approve it... It seems like they gave it a rubber stamp approval."
"These guys are all volunteers, and they do they best they can with what they’ve got," said Brett Van Meter, the other member of the public who came to last week’s meeting.
Cinnamon Paula, with the local chapter of Educate Our State, says the March meeting has suffered low turnouts for the last several years. They had organized a demonstration in front of the school earlier in the day with signs, but attendance was minimal. She says the statewide organization is working on legislation to address this problem from Sacramento.
"I’m not sure that we really can do anything to fix it this year," Paula says, "but our goal is to not see this happening every year."
In a recent series of assemblies, students at South Fork vented frustrations to the board of trustees about limited access to language instruction and other electives - and the Southern Humboldt Unified School District is well aware that they are competing with schools in Fortuna and Arcata for students that have the option of relocating. Since school funding is contingent on enrollment and attendance numbers, the extent of the impacts from layoff notices going out this week remains to be seen.