Pink Slips – New layoffs to affect Special Ed

Members of the Palos Verdes Peninsula school board faced the unenviable task last week of issuing layoff notices to 28 part-time employees, bringing to nearly 75 the total number of pink slips they issued to mostly part-time assistants and other aids going into next school year.

The 28 behavioral interventionists given notice last week in many ways bears out what’s felt to some like unending budget cuts over the past several years. One parent warned the moves could lead to lawsuits, but district officials stressed they would meet every requirement to serve special needs students as the law requires.

“The services will just be delivered in a different method,” said Lydia Cano, deputy secretary of business services. “Because we’ve had so many retirees and shifts in personnel, we’ve taken that opportunity to look at how we do things and streamline to be more efficient with the services we provide.”

Many of the 28 workers given notice last week will be eligible for other positions as well as one of seven new “site lead positions” that are part of the district’s plan to restructure how it delivers special education services.

One of those given notice last week, Paula Soufl, has worked for the district 11 years. The mother of four received her first five hour reduction 18 months ago and another a year later.

“Most people would run away and go find another 40 hour job, but not me because I am committed to these children,” she told the board. “I’m the one who kept the district out of the courtrooms.”

Board member Larry Vanden Bos said he sympathized with Soufl and the others who would lose jobs, but when 85 percent of the district’s $95.6 million budget is based on people, it’s nearly impossible not to directly affect employment.

“It’s not like we’re heartless or doing it to make a statement,” Vanden Bos said. “We’re trying to follow what the law says we have to do.”

Depending on Governor Jerry Brown’s veto decisions and a new state funding formula revealed in the coming weeks, the district could be faced with a differing financial forecast in less than 45 days. But the district legally needed to give notices at this time before the next school year.

Earlier this year layoff notices went out to 23 instructional assistants, 11 special education assistants, 13 childcare aids along with a groundskeeper and maintenance carpenter. Most worked between two and four hours per day.

Though they managed to avoid letting go any more teachers, the district has already absorbed the loss of 70 teachers – roughly 10 percent of its teaching staff – over the past five years while serving the same number of students.

Beverly Dunn, a parent of a special needs student, said she really values the services provided by the district but worries they may be even harder to access.

“Your gatekeepers do a fine job,” she quipped.

Claudine Tazartes, a parent of a special needs student, said she too was concerned that behavioral interventionists would be going away.

“I’m glad to hear there will be some supervisory positions,” she said. “I’m not convinced a behavioral therapist without as much training would be as responsive.”

Cano said the ultimate goal is to deliver even better services in a more efficient way that saves costs.

“They’re really looking carefully at what’s required for the student and what it takes to meet those needs,” Cano said. “We’re really looking at running a more efficient operation.”

Kathy Santarosa, a teacher at Miraleste Intermediate and representative of the teachers union, said the district was losing a lot of great talent.

“As we sit here and wait and don’t rescind these layoffs we are losing our highly qualified. It’s hard on us,” she said.

Geri Sendak, who represents classified personnel, reminded the board of the extra burden losing people places on the remaining staff.

“When you look at the printed copies you see job titles and the number of people cut. I see my fellow workers,” she said. “They have names and faces and families and bills to pay.”

The board voted 4-to-1 to approve the layoffs with Vanden Bos casting the dissenting vote.

Ed Fund lessens blow

Also last week the Palos Verdes Peninsula Education Foundation presented district officials with a $3 million check as part of its annual fundraising drive.

Though it fell slightly short of meeting its $3 million goal this year it was still able to deliver a check to the school district for its full-pledged amount last week because of a small amount of reserves.

Outgoing Foundation President Deidre Manns thanked the donors for their support and the well-attended events held throughout the year. She said the Foundation will once again pledge $3 million in the next school year, which represents 5 percent of the district’s unrestricted budget.

“Every year our budgets have gone down and the education foundation has raised its pledge,” said school board member Larry Vander Bos. “You don’t do that without a whole lot of passion and hard work.”

The Foundation began 34 years ago as a way to supplement the arts and music. But its contributions have grown over the years to support essential services. This year it donated $1.5 million directly to teacher salaries.

“It’s just the icon of good fundraising,” said board member Malcolm Sharp. ER



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