Thursday, February 18, 2010

Parents March and Protest in Salida as Board Makes Plan to Close

View video and more pictures here.

SALIDA -- Superintendent Doug Baughn resigned unexpectedly Tuesday as school district leaders struggled with $3.25 million in budget cuts and the possibility of closing an elementary school.

About 200 people attended Tuesday night's Salida Union School District Board of Education meeting expecting to see elected trustees vote to close one of two elementary schools.

Instead they sat silent and shocked as board President Ivan Wyeth II announced Baughn's resignation, which took effect Tuesday. Assistant Superintendent Twila Tosh was appointed interim superintendent, and she read a statement from Baughn.

In it, he expressed appreciation for his time serving students and staff. He did not attend the meeting. He declined to comment further in a phone call.

Baughn, 52, was in his second year as Salida Union's top executive. He had worked as its assistant superintendent for three years before that.

His departure punctuated an emotional few months for the Salida school community. In November, administrators discovered an accounting error that leaves the district $760,000 short this school year. A business office employee has been on leave since that finding.

That shortage, combined with cuts in education funding, from the state means Salida Union needs to trim at least $3.25 million from next year's budget.

Parents, staff and others in the community have expressed anger at trustees and district administrators for not properly overseeing the district's finances. A handful of parents protested outside the district office Tuesday.

"We need to make some changes, and the changes need to start at the top on down," said one parent who attended the board meeting. Her remarks drew applause from the audience.

"It needs to go further than (Doug Baughn)," she said. "We need to know why it has come to this. Why do our children have to sacrifice a school, if the sacrifice is in vain?"

Wyeth wouldn't go into detail about Baughn's departure. Tosh could negotiate a salary increase for her extra duties, he said. She was serving as the district's assistant superintendent of education and student services.

Wyeth said trustees eventually will search for a superintendent but are concentrating on the district's financial woes first.

"We need to get through the process," he said. "We need to make the appropriate (budget-cutting) decisions with the students in mind."

A few in the audience spoke during Tuesday's meeting, encouraging trustees and administrators to do just that -- keep cuts away from students. That means keeping class sizes small, continuing a basic music program and cutting pay for administrators, speakers said.

Trustees approved a budget plan for the next school year that includes employee and manager salary cuts and the closure of an unspecified school. Trustees said they might be able to avoid shutting a campus if the district can negotiate a package of unpaid furlough days and salary reductions with employee bargaining groups.

Closing a school could save about $323,000, according to estimates. On the other hand, each one-day furlough and 1 percent pay cut for all employees would save about $240,000.

But to meet the state-mandated March 15 deadline for notifying some employees they could be laid off next school year, the staff plans to assume that a school will be closed. Layoff notices can be rescinded, Tosh said.

A budget advisory committee has studied shutting down Salida Elementary or Mildred Perkins Elementary. Trustee Gary Dew asked the staff to set up a board workshop to discuss what criteria would be used to determine which school should be closed.

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