Teachers Make a Difference, Says MUSD Community

March 23, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Cuts to teaching positions were supposed to be minimal, so when news broke last week that 235 Montebello Unified teachers had received layoff notices it sent shock waves through the school community, prompting students, parents, alumni and other school employees to take to the street in protest.

The cuts will have a devastating impact on the quality of education students receive, said protesters at campuses across the district last Thursday.

They demanded the school board explain its 11th hour decision to change its plan to shore up a $17 million budget deficit from one that would have seen the layoff of nearly 500 mostly non-teaching positions, to one that now calls for over two-thirds of the layoffs being teachers.

News of the cuts spread quickly on social media, in some cases postings listed names of teachers being laid off, encouraging the community to protest the cuts.

A petition to save the 235 teaching jobs is currently circulating and will be presented to the MUSD board at their next meeting April 6 and to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE). As of Wednesday, the change.org petition had received over 2,200 signatures.

“As a student of a MUSD school, I see how full the classes already are with some having more than 40 students, and can only imagine how much fuller the classes will get with this cut,” wrote Angelo Carrasco, the Bell Gardens High School student who authored the petition.

Under pressure to quickly get district finances in order or risk county education officials sending in someone to oversee their decisions, MUSD board members last month voted 4-1 to layoff close to 500 classified and non-classified employees — including plumbers, attendance technicians, custodians and administrators on special assignment. It was a jump from about 317 positions on the chopping block less than two weeks earlier.

 Parents, students and alumni join Montebello Unified teachers outside district headquarter to protest the layoff of 235 teachers. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)


Parents, students and alumni join Montebello Unified teachers outside district headquarter to protest the layoff of 235 teachers.
(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

That number of layoffs has dropped to 333, but most of the cuts are now to teachers of English, social sciences, art, music, physical education and health. Layoff notices, often referred to as pink slips, were delivered to impacted teachers on March 15, the deadline for MUSD to notify employees of an impending job loss as required under agreements with its bargaining units.

In a statement, the current board blamed previous boards and administrators for MUSD being “on the edge of insolvency if drastic action is not taken.”

“Consequently, the current Board has had to work with staff to minimize the impact to our employees and to ensure the District remains solvent.”

The last minute decision sparked anger across MUSD, which has schools in Montebello, Bell Gardens, Commerce and a small number of campuses in other cities.

Hundreds of students walked out of Bell Gardens High School the next day, including 17-year-old Ceshia Palos Castellanos.

“These teachers are the foundation of our future,” she said. “I want to go to college and I’m scared this will hurt my chances.”

 

About a dozen teachers at Bell Gardens High have received layoff notices, including the school’s beloved band director and the only teacher of the Advance Placement Comparative Government course. These are our mentors, role models, students lamented.

MUSD representative Ricardo Mendez told students layoffs were based on the district’s overall needs and program objectives, not an individual teacher’s performance.

Many teachers noted the pathway programs and the Applied Technology Center were left untouched. Cuts were not based on seniority, a change from past staffing cuts, when it was usually “the last person hired is the first person fired.”

“They are taking away the few aspects of this school that make it worthwhile,” Castellanos’ mother Victoria told EGP in Spanish. “Soon they will only offer the bare minimum,” she complained, not satisfied with Mendez’ effort to reassure the group.

At some schools, nearly half of all teachers received a pink slip, leaving many to wonder what the impact to student-teacher ratio will be.

“They won’t be able to run a school … let alone a district” with this many cuts, said Christine Alcala-Snee, who’s been laid off after 13 years with MUSD.

In neighboring Commerce, about a dozen students from Rosewood Park School held their own protest.

Holding signs and chanting, “Students and teachers here to fight, education is our right,” students said they want to keep their favorite AVID teacher from being laid off.

For young activists like Zoe Garate, 13, someone has to step up to make sure teachers aren’t cut.

“Can’t the city do something? Don’t they have a lot of money?” she asked, referring to the many programs Commerce provides residents at little or no cost.

Amber Cabreros, 13, told EGP she and her classmates wanted to show just how much their education and teachers matter to them. “They respect us for who we are and show us how far we can go,” she said.

Students at Rosewood Park Elementary School in Commerce protest teachers cuts March 16. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Students at Rosewood Park Elementary School in Commerce protest teachers cuts March 16. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Later that afternoon in Montebello, alumni and parents marched with former teachers from the Montebello Teachers Association headquarters to the district office, hoping to “put a face on” the cuts.

“They pushed us to do more, mentored us as we applied for college and kept us out of trouble,” remarked Erendira Zamudio, who graduated from Schurr last year.

Former Montebello High School student presidents Christopher Jimenez and Jennifer Gutierrez regularly attended school board meetings and were shocked to learn of the district’s current financial mess. They blame the board members they once looked up to for not getting help sooner.

“This could have been prevented,” said Gutierrez. “That is why we need more transparency.”

 

These kinds of cuts violate student rights, according to 2nd grade teacher Patricia Meneses, a 17-year district veteran on the verge of losing her job.

“We set the foundation, and what happens when you break the foundation, the house comes down,” she said.

Maria Navarette has two children at Winter Gardens Elementary in East Los Angeles. She told EGP that district officials must realize that parents see the cuts as an attack on their children.

“These are the people who take care of our children from 8 to 3 and who we entrust with their education,” she said in Spanish. “They are the ones that make it possible for our children to obtain a better future.”

MUSD May Not Meet Financial Obligations, Analysis Finds

January 19, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

County education officials have notified the Montebello Unified School District that it might not meet its financial obligations for the next two school years unless the District implements budget cuts and takes action to stabilize its finances.

MUSD is facing tough fiscal realities and challenges, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education, which advised school officials they must take steps to restore and maintain the minimum reserve for the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years as required by law.

MUSD has agreed to move forward with an “aggressive” fiscal stabilization plan with “minimal disruption to the classroom” in response to the LACOE’s analysis, the District said in a written statement.

School Board President Dr. Lani Cupchoy called the MUSD’s fiscal woes “an inherited problem,” and placed blame on “a state that is unwilling to invest significant resources into public education and inaction by previous boards and executive administrations to address the difficult fiscal challenges facing the District,”

In the past, the district would avoid program cuts and employee layoffs by using its reserves and one-time monies, according to Board Member Benjamin Cardenas

“MUSD is facing the same kind of funding challenges that are currently impacting numerous districts across the state, including declining enrollment, increasing retirement pension costs, rising health benefit costs for current employees and retirees,” Cardenas said, adding that the expiration of one-time mandated block grant funding and underfunding of special education are also been a factor.

The District serves more than 64,000 students in grades K-12 and adult education programs in Bell Gardens, Montebello, Commerce, Monterey Park, East Los Angeles and Pico Rivera.

Declining enrollment due to lower birth rates in the area and families enrolling their children in neighboring districts has been an ongoing issue for the MUSD.

MUSD officials say the financial crisis has forced them to take a closer look at where they can cut costs, particularly in staffing, reassignments, employee benefits and worker’s compensation   to remain fiscally solvent. This includes the possibility of a work force reduction as a “last resort.”

MUSD plans to host informational sessions on the school board’s proposal next week where they will take questions from parents, employees and stakeholders.

Last month, board members approved a forensic audit of the district’s finances, which they said would help them better understand MUSD’s financial protocols, policies and procedures.

“What’s important to note is that this board is committed to looking at every budget restructuring scenario to ensure that we continue to provide a quality education for all our students,” assured Board Vice President Edgar Cisneros. “Maintaining local control and oversight is essential to ensuring that the priorities and needs of our students, parents and employees are addressed and met.”

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