2012-08-30 / Front Page
Ring the bells
Start of school year brings mix of hope and uncertainty
About 20,500 students were expected at the 28 CVUSD campuses for the first day of school, down 300 from 2011, Superintendent Jeff Baarstad said.
“This continues the declining enrollment trend that goes back six years,” he said.
As part of the deal, CVUSD will raise English and Algebra I class sizes in eighth through 10th grades from 25 to 30 and use nearly all of its $9-million rainyday fund to balance the budget—a move that foreshadows difficult financial decisions to come.
On the personnel front, CVUSD welcomes four new principals who’ve held administrative positions in the district: Joshua Eby, former assistant principal at Newbury Park High School, is the new head of Sycamore Canyon School; Juan Santos, former assistant principal at Sequoia Middle School, is Maple Elementary’s new principal; Lori Wall, former dean at Sycamore Canyon, is principal of Ladera Elementary; and Jason Branham, who’s been a teacher and assistant principal at Westlake High School, is Los Cerritos Middle School’s new principal.
The new principal said he’s focusing on students, not the November vote on Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax initiative, which would temporarily raise state sales and income taxes to pay for public education.
If the initiative passes, state education funding will stay the same. If it does not, CVUSD stands to lose about $8.9 million this year, or $441 per student.
Regardless of the outcome, CVUSD is facing a $10.5-million deficit at the end of the school year.
This comes on the heels of major state cuts during the 2008-09 and 2009-10 school years, when district revenue fell by 16 percent, or $25 million.
“Even if this thing passes, we’ve still got major budget problems,” Baarstad said. “There’s a lot of cynicism about whether the (state’s) budget will be balanced in the long term even with the tax initiative. (District employees) can’t help but have a little of a dark cloud over them because of the budget.”
New year brings changes
Despite the financial slump, the superintendent said he’s looking forward to another great year in the high-performing district due to some innovations.
At high school campuses, students will be able to access Wi-Fi outdoors for the first time, Baarstad said.
He hopes the same can be done at middle school campuses by next year.
“Kids have to get ready for the college environment, (where) half of assignments are turned in (online),” he said.
Baarstad also noted the opening of transitional kindergarten at Acacia, Aspen, Walnut, Westlake and Westlake Hills elementary schools. The program will focus on the development of academic, social and emotional skills.
Senate Bill 1381, or the Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2010, requires kindergarten students to be 5 years old by Nov. 1 this school year. To serve kids left out by the earlier cutoff date, the bill also creates a transitional kindergarten for children whose fifth birthdays fall between Sept. 2 and Dec. 2.
Principals in the district expressed enthusiasm about the new school year despite some anxiety about the possibility of additional budget cuts.
“It makes us all hold our breath and hope for a positive outcome in November,” said Somer Harding, who began her second year as principal at Westlake Hills Elementary. “We have strong parent support in the community, which is so beneficial.”
Harding said school resources are being used wisely.
“We’re keeping a close eye on every item in the budget and making sure every program is the best it can be since dollars are so limited.”
Despite the lack of funds, Westlake Hills added 38 new lab computers.
“The biggest asset is that staff is so positive,” Harding said. “This is the best school I’ve ever worked at. It’s a very exciting time of year.”
Wall said she’s excited about getting to know the community, students and teaching staff at her new school.
“Ladera just celebrated their 50th anniversary in the spring. Now I have the opportunity to help the school move into its next chapter,” she said.
Wall said she hopes to improve technology at Ladera with funds from outside the district.
“Because it’s an older school it has a lot of needs,” she said. “The wiring and computers are out of date, but we don’t have money available to use for that. We’ll be looking into grants and opportunities to build up the technology systems at our school.”
Santos, who is the parent of a child in the district, said, “We’re focusing on what we can control: our attitude toward students, our work ethic.”
The week before school started, Santos said there was “excitement in the air” as teachers prepared for the arrival of students.
“We’re giving the best with what we have,” he said. “What we have is a positive attitude. We’re focusing on the big picture and working hard for kids.”