veritas exquirere

Failure to pass Measure A will affect class sizes, teachers, budget

The Oak Park Unified School District vote to renew the “Measure A” parcel tax did not pass, according to the election results released Thursday, May 11.

Out of 2,957 ballots cast, 1,944 Oak Park residents — 65.83 percent — supported the parcel tax and 1,009 residents — 34.17 percent — opposed it. The parcel tax needed at least two-thirds of the vote to pass.

As a result, Oak Park Principal Kevin Buchanan said, “cuts will have to be made.” This includes district budget cuts and teacher staffing cuts.

“We are going to have close to a million dollars less in our budget next year than we’ve had in the last few years. Something has to be adjusted to count for that and that will be staffing. The majority of our budget [about 90 percent] as a district goes to teacher salaries,” Buchanan said.

The amount of teachers cut would be 11 overall in the district, including from the Oak Park Independent School.

Ultimately, the average class size will increase, which will affect each school differently depending on its size and student count.

“The elementary schools are going to feel this probably more than high schools because we’re bigger, we’re more than three times the size of one elementary school. It’s easier for us to absorb a hit like that,” Buchanan said.

We’ve set ourselves up to be this big. If we shrink, it’s going to be a challenge — what do we do?”

— Kevin Buchanan

According to Superintendent Tony Knight, the ongoing solar panel installment in the Oak Park High School parking lot is predicted to reduce the district’s electricity expenses by $375,000 the first year, and in increasing amounts in following years. The money that would have initially been saved from the panel installation may have to be re-routed to general district funding.

“At least the money generated from the solar panels will go back unto the general fund and offset some of the money that we’re losing from the parcel tax, even though we had hoped to use the solar project to build programs and do other things,” Buchanan said.

The parcel tax would have brought in $900,000 yearly. Since it did not pass, the district also faces a decrease in annual revenue.

“We will now be developing our budget for next year with $860,000 less in revenues that the parcel tax has been providing us each year,” Knight wrote in an email he sent to the district.

The reduced number of teachers may affect the number of students able to attend schools in the district in the future. In addition, extracurricular school activities and elective courses — music, performing arts, clubs and AP programs — could decrease with a potential student decrease.

“Our programs at this school are built to a degree that they’re supported by this enrollment. If this enrollment starts to decline significantly, the programs that were built concurrently with the increasing enrollment are going to decrease,” Buchanan said. “We’ve also built the physical facility of our campus to accommodate the size of the school. We’ve set ourselves up to be this big. If we shrink, it’s going to be a challenge — what do we do?”

Regarding cuts at Oak Park High School, Buchanan said the district is considering “everything.”

“At the high school, we are still not sure yet. We are looking at the entire program to see where we can pinch it,” Buchanan said.

Subsidiary subjects like remedial math, AcaDeca, athletic coaches and study halls are potential first cuts in extra school programs, including the newly instated attendance dean who has helped improve rates of student attendance.

The leadership team at the district … We all get together and we try to minimize the impact and take care of the budget deficit as well we can without destroying programs.”

— Kevin Buchanan

“We cut excessive tardies and attendance by about 40 percent. That’s actually a financial benefit,” Buchanan said.

Whatever the outcome will be from Measure A not passing, alterations district-wide will occur.

“The impact of this is going to be felt across all schools,” Buchanan said.

The district administrators intend to meet beginning Friday, May 12, to plan next steps.

“The leadership team at the district — the principals, the superintendent, the assistant superintendent, the director of the business office. We all get together and we try to minimize the impact and take care of the budget deficit as well we can without destroying programs,” Buchanan said.

According to the Ventura County Clerk and Recorder, only 35.16 percent of all Oak Park voters — including high school seniors who can vote, but are unaffected by the parcel tax once they graduate — participated in the election. That means that only 2,957 of the 8,409 registered voters in Oak Park cast ballots.

“It’s a fairly low turnout for these kind of elections,” Buchanan said.

The trajectory of the parcel’s success was 0.84 percent lower than the expected 66.67 percent needed to succeed. The official outcome between voters ultimately depended on a 25-resident difference to sway the vote –– instead, these votes went to the “no’s.”

Buchanan said he can only guess as to why 64.84 percent of residents turned down their voting contribution and instead remain undecided about Measure A.

“You’d think they’d have an opinion one way or another with whether or not they wanted to pay a tax that supported the schools,” Buchanan said. “Maybe they thought, ‘it’s going to pass anyway,’ or maybe they thought ‘I don’t have kids in schools’ or ‘I’m not involved in the schools, so let the people who are involved in the schools decide.’”

District plans for staffing cuts

According to Buchanan, cutting teachers is a seniority-based procedure where schools would first focus on retiring teachers, second on teachers with temporary contracts and lastly tenure teachers. Teachers with temporary contracts have already been notified they could possibly “be released at the end of the year,” Buchanan said.  

“Temporary contracts are for teachers who have been hired under contracts where maybe the funding is not necessarily guaranteed in the long-term. We call it one-time funding from the state,” Buchanan said. “Because we know that’s not ongoing funding, we file them under temporary contract, so if we need to cut them, we can.”

To stabilize teacher salary deductions from the district budget, Buchanan said a “last-in, first-out” policy might ensue.

The district offers a retirement incentive to encourage tenure teachers, if they are close to retirement, to retire early.”

— Kevin Buchanan

“The problem with that is that the people who are hired most recent are often the younger teachers who are fairly new to the profession. Well, they’re not high on the salary scale, so you don’t save as much [money] releasing newer teachers,” Buchanan said.

But retirement could substitute the potential amount of newer teachers released.

“When someone retires, they retire after 30 years and are at the very top of the pay-scale. So, if you do it with retirement you get to keep two new teachers for one retirement,” Buchanan said. “The district offers a retirement incentive to encourage tenure teachers, if they are close to retirement, to retire early.”

Editor’s note: A prior edition of this article, published May 12, stated that the ongoing solar panel installment in the parking lot would reduce the district’s electricity expenses by $3,000 to $4,000 per year. The corrected edition, as of May 23, states that the expenses are to be reduced by $375,000 the first year, and in increasing amounts in following years.

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