C.J. Morris Elementary  has moved to a temporary campus this year, while their old school is remodeled in Walnut on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012.
C.J. Morris Elementary has moved to a temporary campus this year, while their old school is remodeled in Walnut on Thursday, Aug. 23, 2012. (SGVN/Staff photo by Watchara Phomicinda)

The financially troubled Walnut Valley Unified School District is counting on a state mediator this week to wring concessions from its teachers, and the state Board of Education to approve a school site lease plan that could raise some cash.

Those are two of the latest moves geared toward lifting the high-performing school district in Walnut and Diamond Bar out of a sea of red ink and from the clutches of the Los Angeles County Office of Education.

If the district is not successful in closing a $4.7 million deficit in a $110 million annual budget by the end of the school year, it could be taken over by the county. In December, the board voted to declare "a negative certification" which means the district will soon be unable to pay its bills and faces a county takeover.

The district hopes to accrue about $1.7 million in savings from teacher salaries by imposing six furlough days before the school year ends May 31, said Kathy Granger, assistant superintendent of human resources.

The district is also asking teachers for an additional nine furlough days for each of the next two school years, Granger confirmed.

"That's why you bring a mediator in. You hope to get an agreement," she said Monday.

Walnut Valley Educators Association President Larry Taylor confirmed that the two side are at an impasse, and that both met with state mediator Michelle Keith of the Public Employee Relations Board Tuesday for the first time in the months-long contract negotiations.

The teachers union says furlough days will reduce instruction days and degrade student learning, Taylor said. He wants to get the district to use new budget figures for K-12 funding coming out of Sacramento as early as Thursday.

"It comes down to the way they (district) spend their money. How they will use the money they will get from the state," Taylor said.

He says the district must provide a spending blueprint that includes new funds Gov. Jerry Brown has promised since the passage of Prop. 30, the education funding measure approved by voters in November.

Granger confirmed that the furlough days will reduce the school year, from 180 days to 175 days, the lowest it is allowed to go by state law. A sixth day could come out of non-instructional days.

"Whenever you reduce the school year, you do take away instructional time," Granger said.

In addition to cutting instruction days and teacher salaries, the district is trying to raise money by leasing the Ron Hockwalt Academies, 476 S. Lemon Ave., Walnut.

The school site is serving as the temporary location of the C.J. Morris Elementary School, which is being completely refurbished. By the start of the 2013-14 school year, students, staff and faculty will move back to the original school, leaving the 7.7-acre school and property on South Lemon Avenue as surplus, explained Diana Thorneycroft, senior administrative assistant to Jeannette Ullrich, assistant superintendent of business.

Both Ullrich and Superintendent Dean Conklin did not return phone calls this week.

The board is seeking a waiver from the state Board of Education to lease the facility and reap the revenues, Thorneycroft said.

"What we are looking into is the possibility of leasing out the property which is not needed," Thorneycroft said Monday.

The school board will hold a public hearing on the waiver and possible lease of the academies 7 p.m., Jan. 16, at the district office, 880 S. Lemon Ave., Walnut.

A waiver is sought from the state education code preventing payments from leases to be used for general operating purposes.

The Hockwalt Academies lease plan is not related to the sale of the "Site D" land in Diamond Bar. The district sold that land in June to Lennar Homes for nearly $40 million, but the deal is tied up in a lengthy escrow. The district will not expect to close escrow for one to three years, Thorneycroft said.

steve.scauzillo@sgvn.com

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