If new Alameda Unified supe Kirsten Vital got a honeymoon, it was short-lived indeed. At Tuesday’s meeting Vital, who has been with us eight weeks, faced a contingent of East End parents who are frustrated about the dearth of kindergarten spots available for next year, and another of teachers who are angry that the district has decided to open negotiations for a new contract instead of taking the teachers’ proposal to keep the old one.
She faced questions from those same teachers and a school board member about her pay package and that of the district’s other top executives, and bitter news about the just passed state budget that could force the district to make some hard choices this year. (For a moment, I thought I was at a city council meeting. But that closed-door session was down the hall, and still going strong at four hours when I left.)
Did I mention the district is planning to present its LGBT curriculum to parents at elementary schools and that it is still trying to work out its agreement with the Nea Community Learning Center charter?
And this was supposed to be a “light agenda.” (District staff is anticipating a blockbuster on March 10. I’ll bring coffee.)
So okay, details.
Overenrollment: District officials will be meeting with parents next week at four elementary schools where lotteries were held for kindergarten spaces. They’ll be at Otis on March 2, Franklin on March 3, Bay Farm on March 4 and Edison on March 5. The options they’re considering to deal with all those extra kiddies include putting portables (where they’ll fit), moving and relocating programs, sharing space and increasing class sizes. On Vital’s suggestion, the school board is slated to make a decision on how they’ll deal with this on March 10.
LGBT curriculum: The district postponed plans to bring a sexual orientation and gender identity curriculum to the board in order to gather more parent input, a process they plan to begin next week at the Island’s elementary schools. So far they’ve set up meetings on March 5 at Franklin School and March 9 at Bay Farm School, and they’re working on setting up additional meetings at five other schools over the next few weeks. The principals and PTAs at Otis, Paden and Ruby Bridges opted to pass on similar presentations at those schools. Keep an eye on your school newsletter or website for the 411.
Teacher contract: Alameda’s teachers union said it would be willing to keep its current contract for an additional year so the district could focus its efforts on getting a better deal from the state. But Vital instead asked the board to reopen negotiations on several portions of the contract, which it agreed to on a 3-2 vote (Trustees Trish Spenceer and Niel Tam cast the “no” votes). Teachers said they’re angry the district wants to put their contract on the table, which they said will create hard feelings and will cost the district more money that it is likely to save. (Teachers and Trustee Trish Spencer also asked after the salaries and scheduled pay increases for Vital and her top deputies.) But Vital said the state’s budget crunch is forcing her to take a look at how the district is spending its money, and that the proposal – which includes new contract language that would allow the district to increase class sizes, cut pay for teacher prep time, transfer teachers in the wake of any restructuring, and create full-day kindergarten classes – could help the district implement a master plan she hopes to put in place by the end of the calendar year.
And about that budget … The district is still working out how much money the state’s just-signed budget proposal for the next 17 months will cost them. The short version: Bad, but not as bad as they thought. California will mete outcuts to categorical programs like professional development, school safety and supplemental counseling for rest of this year and next year. But they’ll give school districts the opportunity to spend what’s left on general instructional costs. The state has also loosened the rules on class size reduction funds for kindergarten through third grade, which would allow them to boost class sizes without taking the same hit they faced in the past. District Chief Financial Officer Tim Rahill estimated that the district could save $2.4 million if it increased class sizes from 20 to 30. (Vital said she’d like to use as-yet unspent money for adult education to help cover the district’s bills.) More to come on this one.
If you’re still reading this: The district is expecting to have an agreement with the Nea Community Learning Center signed and ready for the school board on March 10. Assistant Superintendent Debbie Wong said lawyers for the district and Nea are working out language regarding the charter’s provision of special education services.