Open Letter to CUSD

Nov 13, 2014 by

An Open Letter to CUSD Officials and Representatives

In light of Superintendent Campbell’s recommendations to close schools and the District’s and Board’s pleas for the public to generate alternatives, we would like to call attention to recent decisions made to voluntarily increase spending. We hope to dispel the mystery surrounding how the District finds itself in this current fiscal “crisis”. As presented at the October 28th Board meeting, the following is a timeline that demonstrates a pattern of:

  • Correspondence from the Calaveras County Office of Education (CCOE) warning CUSD of their fiscal reality and strongly recommending against additional increases to on-going costs
  • CUSD Board approval of AB1200 Disclosure Statements certifying that cost increases could be met
  • CUSD Board approval of voluntary expenditure increases

April 30, 2013 letter from CCOE to Mark Campbell regarding the District’s AB1200 Disclosure Statement for the Calaveras Unified Educators’ Association (CUEA) agreement stating: “this agreement will require additional expenditure reductions beyond those already planned of approximately $548,000 in 2014/2015…In spite of these significant expenditure reductions, the District’s projections continue to reflect deficit spending of more than $1 million dollars annually…It is evident that many of those reductions will be difficult to achieve both politically and programmatically. Our office believes that this agreement exacerbates what is already a financially tenuous situation for the District, and strongly recommends that the District does not make any further increases to on-going costs”.

May 10, 2013 letter from CCOE to Mark Campbell regarding the District’s AB1200 Disclosure Statement regarding the CASTA agreement reiterating CCOE’s strong recommendation that the District not make any further increases to on-going costs.

May 14, 2013 the CUSD Board approved the AB1200 and agreement with CUEA. The purpose of AB1200 is to require the District to demonstrate fiscal solvency prior to any salary increase.

June 25, 2013 the CUSD Board approved the AB1200 and agreement with CASTA. When combined with the 5/14/13 CUEA agreement, these approvals increased the District’s cost by approximately $360,000.

May 1, 2014 letter from CCOE to Mark Campbell regarding the District’s AB1200 Disclosure Statement that reads, “an additional $436,000 in budget reductions would be needed to meet the reserve requirements and the salary agreement, and that deficit spending would continue”. Per the letter, “our office believes that this agreement exacerbates what is already a financially tenuous situation for the District, and strongly recommends that the District does not make any further increases to on-going costs”.

May 13, 2014 the CUSD Board approved an AB1200 Disclosure Statement certifying that the costs associated with the proposed collective bargaining can be met during the term of the agreement. The Board approved two salary and benefit agreements, one with CUEA and another with the ROP teachers, totaling approximately $938,000 in new costs to the District. The Board ignored the warning and recommendations from CCOE.

Six weeks later on June 24, 2014 the Fiscal Director announced that CUSD is looking at a $1.8 million deficit for 2014/2015. Superintendent Campbell stated that he “holds himself personally responsible for the position we are in today…we will work as a team to protect people, programs and kids.”

June 30, 2014 the CUSD Board rescinded employment offers to 8 teachers and is now required to implement severe budget reductions. CUSD proposes to lay off additional teachers, increase class sizes to the maximum and close community schools.

Within approximately one year (May 2013 to May 2014), the CUSD Board approved voluntary increases to the District’s on-going costs of approximately $1.3 million.

Proposed Solutions
When reflecting upon the above timeline and sequence of events, we would like to present two possible solutions. They are based on the principles of FAIRNESS and EQUITY. These options do not include destructive, long-term cuts that disproportionately impact isolated sectors of our school district. These are unified solutions for a unified school district. They do not include the closure of schools and can eliminate or minimize the loss of additional jobs.

Preferred Solution: Institute salary and benefit reductions.
Meet the deficit by shared and equal sacrifice like we have always done in rural communities. It is understood that the negotiations for certificated and classified staff take place behind closed doors and staff are not able to discuss the status of these proceedings openly. However, management is not affiliated with a union. We ask that management step forward in a leadership capacity and offer concessions proactively. Do not wait to “follow suit” behind your employees. Step forward, assume your responsibility for the reality of this fiscal crisis and institute pay cuts at the management level ~ regardless of what happens at the other tables. Community members are demanding accountability.

Alternate Solution: Institute universal site budget reductions.
School sites and the district office could equitably share the reductions by making modest cuts at each site. Local authority can be exercised and each site can formulate individualized solutions (this can be a combination of cuts and/or revenue). The process can commence at each site and be a joint effort between administration, teachers, and families. This should include all programs. Without currently having access to all of the budgets, an exact figure cannot be determined, but an estimated 4.5% budget adjustment would need to be implemented at each school site and the district office.

Moving Forward
You (the bargaining units and district management) are in a unique position to come to the table and take a hard look at the voluntary spending increases that you have agreed to and implemented over the past two years. Regardless of whether or not you knew at the time what these agreements would do, you can take responsibility for the ramifications that we have seen to date. These agreements total nearly $1,300,000 in added, on-going spending and here we are scrambling to figure out how to come up with $875,000 in Phase II cuts.

You have the power to stop the destructive and divisive trend of pitting school against school, community against community. We are a unified school district. All of our schools and programs can potentially remain intact by considering an option that reduces salaries and benefits, bringing them back towards the figures that existed prior to the ill-advised, voluntary increases. These reductions can be temporary in nature and can be reinstated when district revenues increase. We ask that you consider offering retirement incentives and the reduction of Core Days, both of which could make the needed salary and benefit reductions even less.

Thank you in advance for your consideration and action.

Respectfully submitted,

Cheri Aguiar, Parent, Mokelumne Hill Elementary
Courtney Oneto-McDermed, President, Mokelumne Hill Elementary Partners-In-Education
Lynn Brown, President,  West Point Elementary Parent/Teacher Group
Kelly Riley, President, Rail Road Flat Elementary Parent Teacher Club

* The referenced documents are being sent as attachments to this letter.
CUSD Open Letter 10.29.14
CUSD Open Letter Documents

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  1. Manette Stanley

    Thank you for the insightful and well researched VIABLE solutions to save our schools. As both a parent and as a member of the Mokelumne Hill Elementary Partners In education board member I strongly support the recommendations listed in this fabulous open letter.

  2. As part of the Moke Alumni (those who attended Mokelumne Hill Elementary), and one of Mark Campbell’s former students, I was shocked to learn about the closing of schools. After researching more and more about the situation, it appears the quality of the man who was deemed my favorite teacher in middle school has been negated with that of the ongoing corrupt activities the CUSD has been plagued with since I was in school.

    As an inspirational teacher, Mr. Campbell helped students find their voice and stand strong in who they wanted to be in this world. I hate to think he has lost himself and his ethics through his rise from Toyon all the way to Superintendent.

    Character aside, their are communities that are set to be drastically impacted by the closures of these schools. Students who will have to travel larger distances, meaning less time for homework, play and sleep. Parents who will have less time with their children. And communities without schools. For what?

    Mr. Campbell, if you are reading this, I beg that you live up to your word and work diligently with the communities you serve to keep these schools open. In your own words: “we possess the courage and conviction necessary to sustain the commitment to our chosen mission—working to create a better future for our students where they have increased opportunities and options and the skills needed to make the most of those moments in life.”

    Your former students are betting on you to turn this all around.

  3. My appreciation goes out to the authors for shedding light on this far-reaching and complicated issue. Thank you!

    May I suggest an additional Alternate Solution? Given the large geographic area that the CUSD encompasses, it seems to me that transportation costs might be a huge line item in the district’s budget (this is conjecture on my part, as I have not seen the budget myself). Fuel and maintenance costs associated with the CUSD’s many buses could be mitigated by charging families a nominal fee in order to use the school bus. Free or reduced prices could be granted for families that need financial reprieve using the income-based needs assessment standards already in place for school lunches. This could be implemented a number of ways to prevent cash transactions directly involving students: bus tickets could be purchased individually or in booklets for discounted prices; laminated passes could be purchased quarterly or for the entire school year, for example.

    More than alleviating the CUSD’s present financial dilemma, I believe this Alternate Solution could have the added benefit of illuminating many facets of “public” transportation that are often overlooked, leading to awareness that could have a positive ripple effect throughout the community. The reality is that a free bus ride to and from school is, simply, not free. There are monetary costs, costs to the environment, costs in terms of time spent away from family–countless barriers that prevent others throughout the world from having access to school buses at all.

    A parent who is reminded of this reality might voluntarily purchase surplus booklets, tickets for their children’s friends, or donate directly to the district in order to offset the costs of children who need to ride for free. A student who is charged with keeping track of his or her own bus ticket can find empowerment in this responsibility and is made aware each time it’s handed to the driver of the sacrifice (or cost) that comes along with a ride that was, perhaps, previously taken for granted. I believe this student will be more invested in these rides–these invaluable bookends of their educational experiences–and will thereby be less likely to engage in vandalism and other destructive behaviors while on the bus, an added benefit for CUSD bus drivers.

    As an alumni of Rail Road Flat Elementary, Toyon Middle School, and Calaveras High, it breaks my heart to witness this financial crisis unfolding and I echo those sentiments that the students should not pay for the mistakes made by their elders. If we can move beyond pain and beyond defensiveness, can work together toward outside-of-the-box solutions that are to the benefit all, there is no doubt in my mind that one day soon this will all be in retrospect, a valued crisis in that it tested the courage of our convictions.

    • Lisa Snyder

      As a parent of a Calaveras High School student, I have been paying a mandatory fee of almost two hundred dollars per year for the last several years for my child to use the school bus. Are you suggesting an addition to the cost I’ve been paying? I don’t mind paying my fair share but as a property owner and tax payer who is paying a transportation fee I’m not sure an additional cost is the answer.