While the Los Altos School District is in a better financial position than last year, administrators are facing major upcoming expenses with the development of the 10th school site, the monster of inflation and a possible recession in the next few years.
To address the impending expenditures, one of the first difficult decisions LASD officials had to make was to lay off two full-time nurses to free up money to increase staff salaries.
The decision, which came at the March 7 LASD Board of Trustees meeting, was a difficult one. When it came time to vote, Superintendent Sandra McGonagle and the five trustees recognized it as a necessary step to “right-size” the district workforce. The influx of state and federal COVID relief funding has dried up, contributing to LASD’s financial need to downsize.
LASD beefed up its nursing staff from two registered nurses, with one licensed vocational nurse, to two RNs and five LVNs post-pandemic. The pandemic inspired an increased need for health services in schools, particularly to track exposure and to notify close contacts of confirmed cases. Now that the COVID crisis has eased, McGonagle said “the work is not there” for nurses.
“I want to really appreciate the work of these two individuals – I know they are loved by their team, they are loved by the staff,” McGonagle said. “It’s a hard decision to make, but … I really do believe we need to look closely at our conditions and begin to right-size for the fiscal health of our organization.”
Gardner Bullis School administration secretary Kim Fletcher spoke to the importance of LASD nurses’ work in the public comment session before the vote, thanking them for their service throughout the pandemic.
“As COVID has decreased. I have not seen our nurses’ jobs decrease,” Fletcher said. “Our nurses are there on a regular basis in a way that many parents notice and appreciate. We have families who do not have access to a regular pediatrician, and our nurses help bolster and keep those kids safe and healthy and in school.”
Trustees acknowledged Fletcher’s comments, but they somberly proceeded with their decision to cut the positions.
“I’m sure as the board and administration, we will keep looking for opportunities to get all those benefits that you’ve described so eloquently, so thank you for that,” trustee Bryan Johnson told Fletcher. “Unfortunately, I think we probably have to proceed with what’s before us tonight, even though we don’t want to.”
Becoming a competitive employer
McGonagle said the move to eliminate the staff positions is partially due to the need to increase compensation to remain competitive in attracting good teachers.
“We have been looking very closely at our future planning for next year, knowing that we need to become more competitive for salaries,” she said.
Financial auditors as well as the LASD Citizens’ Advisory Committee for Finance urged LASD to boost starting salaries for teachers if the district wants to remain competitive with other school districts in the area.
According to a presentation by auditor Paul Pham from Chavan & Associates at the Jan. 23 board of trustees meeting, LASD falls behind districts like the Santa Clara Unified School District when it comes to starting salaries for new teachers – $63,000 versus $89,000 for SCUSD teachers. As Pham and financial auditors pointed out, there is more to consider in an employment package than just base pay, but they both recommended that more LASD resources be put toward hiring quality teachers to remain a top school district.
Erik Walukiewicz, LASD assistant superintendent of business services, echoed the sentiment last week, citing an increase in salary and benefits as a key projected expense in next year’s budget.
Other ups and downs
In good news, LASD received more money from property-tax growth than previously anticipated at 7.94%, though with current real estate trends, this number is projected to decrease over the next couple of years.
The district also presented its expenditure plan for the Art, Music, and Instructional Materials Discretionary Block Grant received from the state as a part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s historically large education budget last year. LASD’s $2.2 million apportionment will go toward technology, classroom, phone system and library upgrades.
Ongoing concerns include the funding of the LASD’s 10th campus, as well as infrastructure improvements on existing school sites, which may require passing another bond measure to complete. The parcel tax is set to expire in June 2025, and a team has been formed to research placing a new one on the ballot.
Finally, LASD will reassess the efficiency of its Universal Meals Program, which draws more than $1 million from the general fund each year.
“This is the first time we’ve ever fed 3,000 kids, and so for us it’s exciting that we’re doing this, but can we do it in a better way?” Walukiewicz asked.
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