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Leadership concerns: Budget, schedules top list of Coast Unified teachers' issues with superintendent

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Daniel Schalk had taught science classes at Coast Union High School full time for seven years until recently. Instead of spending his full day at the high school, Schalk was re-assigned to part-time high school science teacher and part-time Cambria Grammar School lunch supervisor.

"The decision was involuntary and basically I said, 'This is ridiculous; I have no grammar school experience,'" Schalk said.

This sort of reassignment is just one of a litany of concerns that teachers have about the leadership of their superintendent, Victoria Schumacher. Teaching staff and community members have been voicing their concerns for months over teacher reassignments, declining student enrollment, a decreased number of teachers, and the shrinking district budget.

In April of this year, teachers were outraged by the district's decision to reduce its teaching staff by 3 1/2 positions through voluntary retirement. The district informed 10 teachers, Schalk included, of reassignments that spring.

Prior to his reassignment, Schalk taught physics, chemistry, and biology at Coast Union High School. At the start of the school year, he started traveling from one school to the other, teaching high school physics and chemistry and commuting to the elementary school to supervise lunch and be a teacher's aide.

The high school biology class was cut, leaving students with the option of taking an agricultural biology class instead.

"I felt a sense of dread, for lack of a better word," he said. "It was this feeling of being totally ignored and feeling like you're caught in this dark room where you don't understand why anything is happening."

After presenting an alternative plan to bring back the biology course, Schalk was given back his full-time position on Sept. 13. The change occurred a week after teachers renewed their complaints about the district's superintendent, revisiting a vote of no confidence letter sent to the district in June regarding the superintendent's leadership.

Cambria Teachers Association President Joe Sassaman said his colleagues' concerns include having no time to prepare for their next classes, no time for students outside of the class period, and no time for themselves—as they travel between Coast Union High School and the Cambria Grammar School or Santa Lucia Middle School.

Under Schumacher's leadership, from September 2017 to September of this year, 13 teachers and staff members have resigned from their positions with the district.

Sassaman and others believe that teacher reassignments, staff leaving the district, and an overall lack of confidence in leadership are the reasons that many parents in the community are moving their children out of the district.

In August 2017, the enrollment report showed that 610 children were attending school in the district. This school year (2018-19), the report shows that 563 students have been enrolled.

Students are attending San Luis Coastal Unified School District rather than Coast, which is affecting the district's budget, according to Sassaman.

Coast is considered a "basic aid district," meaning the property values in the district's boundaries are high enough that revenue from property taxes more than meets what the state would allocate per student.

Last year, Coast, Cayucos Elementary School District, and San Luis Coastal entered into an agreement to establish a process for Cayucos students to transfer from Coast to San Luis Coastal for high school and for the money to go with them. With the new contract, 22 percent of the funds will follow transfer students to San Luis Coastal this year, 55 percent will follow next year, and the full amount is set for the third year.

During a Feb. 8, 2018, school board meeting, California School Employees Association chapter President Patricia Stroh spoke about Coast's financial future on behalf of the chapter and the Cambria Teachers Association. She said that school districts in San Luis Obispo County expend an average of $10,677 per student. Coast Unified spends $17,000 per student.

"If we assume we lose the estimated $1.6 million to Cayucos, the district is still well above the county average to spend on students," she said during the meeting.

According to the district's 2016-17 budget, the general fund total revenue and other financial resources was $12.1 million. For 2017-18, it was $12.6 million.

Superintendent Schumacher told New Times that the district is working to maintain a 4 percent reserve in future budget years, which is why she has been working to balance the budget by reducing the number of teachers. What will make that difficult in the years to come, Schumacher said, is the increasing cost of the district's contribution to the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and California State Teacher's Retirement System (CalSTRS) pensions.

"For example, CalSTRS had a distinct contribution of about 8 percent. For the 2017-18 year, it was 14.4 percent on the employees' total compensation. For 2021-22, it's projected to increase 18.6 percent; that's a 4.2 percent increase in STRS alone," Schumacher said.

Aside from those increases, she said, the district has a priority in providing technology for its students that is costly, as well as the cost of E-Rate—a discounted telecommunications service.

Schumacher said that on Sept. 21, the district will hold the first of three public meetings where the superintendent's financial analysis committee works with the community in understanding and balancing the district's budget.

"This will continue to be an ever deepening process in transparency and community engagement," she said.

The superintendent is currently under an evaluation period and results will be provided to the public at an Oct. 4 board meeting. Δ

Staff Writer Karen Garcia can be reached at kgarcia@newtimesslo.com

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