The state budget crisis has hit home for five Foothill staff members who received pink slips last Tuesday.
Teachers Heather Ferris, Emily Stevens, Alice Rocca, and counselors Juana Vega and Debbie Freemen are among 47 Ventura Unified School District certificated employees who may lose their jobs at the end of the semester.
Reactions among the notified employees at Foothill varied from surprise to understanding.
“I felt that I was secure because there was so many temp counselors I never knew that it would affect me,” explained Vega, who has been a counselor at Foothill since August and previously worked at DeAnza Middle School.
Newer teachers and counselors, who work from year to year on a temporary basis, are laid off before tenured staff. This is the first time in Foothill history that tenured teachers with so much experience have received pink slips.
Ferris, who teaches economics, health and AVID and has worked at Foothill since 2007, worried about the effect on students of possibly losing so many staff members.
“It’s sad to see this happen because we are all such a collaborative staff,” she said.
Rocca, a math and AVID teacher who has worked in the district for just two years, was not as surprised to receive a pink slip.
“It’s my second year in the district so its easier for me to understand this whole situation,” said Rocca.
Principal Joe Bova expressed concern over the situation.
“We do not want to lose the teachers and counselors that we have at this school,” he said. “I hired them because they are at the top of their field, they are a tremendous asset to this school. It would be devastating for us to lose them.”
Legally, the district is required to let employees know if their jobs may be cut by March 15, but the pink slips do not necessarily mean that these teachers will be laid off. If California senators vote to place a tax extension bill on a June special election ballot, and if it passes, the slips will be rescinded. Legislators are expected to vote on this issue today.
“I’m hopeful that they [senators] will come to some sort of compromise and that there will be a balance in the approach towards the budget that would include both tax extensions and cuts, not just cuts,” Bova said.
However, if the tax extension bill is not passed, Ventura Unified will be forced to cut $6 million from it’s budget. In preparation for this, the district is working out a contract with the Ventura Unified Education Association in an attempt to save jobs.
“People don’t realize that it goes beyond the point of receiving a paycheck and having a job, we are here to educate our kids and help them create a future,” said Freemen, who has worked at Foothill for more than five years.
The tentative contract proposes 10 furlough days, which equals a 4.77% salary reduction for district employees across the board. Even if the VUEA membership votes for the contract on March 23 and 24, however, the district would have to layoff 15 teachers, not replace retirees and not bring some temporary teachers back; resulting in 35 fewer teachers district-wide.
Teachers with more seniority in the district could replace Foothill teachers, and certain programs could be greatly affected.
“The thing that I’m most worried about is my AVID class, because I don’t know what they will do if both Mrs. Roca and I leave,” Ferris said. “Even if we are replaced by a person with seniority, it doesn’t mean that those teachers will take the responsibilities that we had.”
No matter what happens with the tax extensions, Foothill administration is already looking for ways to save money and staff resources. For example, the staff has already decided to host only two dances next year and is planning on limiting other programs as well, though AVID is not one of them.
“Clubs will be greatly curtailed,” said Bova. “We want people to focus on what really matters: teaching and learning and curricular development. Extracurricular activities will have to take a back seat.”
All class sizes in Ventura Unified are expected to increase from 23 to 25 in K-3 classrooms, from 30 to 31 in 4-5 grades, and from 34 to 36 in middle and high schools.
“I know it will affect the students, because what the other teachers don’t realize is that even if they were against it [the tax extension bill], their classes will be impacted next year,” Ferris said.
The cuts faced by Ventura Unified next year are partially offset by one-time use of property sales money held by the district. However, the following school year, this money be gone, and the full impact of the crisis will be felt.
“Two years from now will be the worst,” said Foothill counselor Steve Boyd. “If things don’t change, that will be brutal.”
Dragon Press staff writers Sobeida Curiel and Eva Morales contributed to the reporting of this article.