SAN LORENZO -- The school board voted unanimously Tuesday to issue a layoff notice to a preschool teacher and reduce the hours of a high school art teacher from full-time to part-time, a decision met with disbelief by the president of the teachers union.
The five-member board voted to lay off a teacher working at the Burbank Cooperative Preschool housed at the district's adult school and to eliminate an art class at East Bay Arts High taught by a full-time art teacher, but allow him to continue teaching an art class at Arroyo High. The vote came ahead of the March 15 layoff notice deadline prescribed for districts in state law.
Sharon Lampel, assistant superintendent of human resources, told the board, "Layoffs can be done for lack of work or lack of funds, and we have a little bit of each here."
Funded by parent fees, the nonprofit preschool is a hybrid child and adult education class, requiring parents to attend the preschool class at least once a week to learn about child development. Lampel said the fee-based funding for the preschool ran out.
According to preschool staff, the layoff, coupled with the retirement of the temporary preschool teacher at the school, will mean the closure of the preschool program next year.
The teachers union president took issue with the plan to eliminate an art teacher at East Bay Arts High School, saying the district could not justify cutting an art class while hundreds of students in the district are enrolled in teacher assistant courses as an elective.
Lampel said the East Bay Arts High program needs to concentrate more on classes that focus on career skills. "In order to align with the career-technical (education needs), they need to change their focus a bit and they have too many sections of art."
Donna Pinkney, president of the San Lorenzo Education Association and school counselor, questioned the rationale to reduce a teacher's hours in light of the district's 6 percent reserve, double the state's 3 percent requirement, the passage of the Prop. 30 tax initiative and the number of students enrolled in teacher assistant courses as an elective. A survey of district campuses found that more than 100 students at Arroyo High, San Lorenzo High and Washington Manor Middle were enrolled in a teacher assistant class, where students can get credit for helping teachers with record-keeping, grading papers and tests and preparing materials.
She said students should be in more meaningful elective courses, such as art or music.
"These large numbers feel uncomfortably like warehousing students instead of making sure all students have access to a full day of instruction," Pinkney said. "I fear that elective programs are disappearing through shortsighted decisions that ignore the learning needs of students. I believe our district needs to hire more elective teachers, not reduce them. ... I think it is absolutely wrong to say that there is no job in the district for an art teacher."
Board member Penny Peck pointed out that Edendale Middle School does not have an art teacher. She also said middle school students benefit from art, citing teacher Mary Anne Davis at Washington Manor who was named the state's top middle school arts instructor by the California Art Education Association last year.
Norman Fobert, board president and a former Fremont charter school principal, said the number of students in teacher assistant classes has nothing to do with reducing the hours of the art teacher but that Pinkney's concerns will be looked at.
"The actuality is if we do not have the students for the sections, then we don't hire the teacher." Fobert said. "We take seriously this allegation, and we will be looking into it because there shouldn't be a lot of T.A.s."
Lampel noted before the vote that the district has been able to rescind all layoff notices issued in the last few years to credentialed staff who wanted to return to work, though it is unknown if that will occur this year.
In a separate action Tuesday, the school board unanimously approved the addition of several advanced placement and career technology education courses at two high school campuses, funded in part by a College Board AP Potential Expansion grant.
New courses approved for Arroyo High next year include AP World History, AP Psychology and career technical education elective Introduction to Education. San Lorenzo High will begin offering AP Geography, AP Spanish and math elective Quantitative Literacy next year.
Ashly McGlone covers San Leandro, San Lorenzo and the Washington Township Health Care District. Contact her at 510-293-2463. Follow her at Twitter.com/AshlyReports.
San Lorenzo High: 193
Washington Manor Middle: 177
Arroyo High: 115
Bohannon Middle: 82
East Bay Arts High: 21
Edendale Middle: 18
Source: San Lorenzo Education Association survey