By Raiza Giorgi


The library at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School was packed Monday with more than 150 people, including students, parents, teachers and community leaders, who urged the Board of Education to consider options to reduce the district’s budget without laying off teachers and cutting programs for the upcoming school year. 

The special meeting was called to discuss why the district has a structural deficit of more than $750,000 and to find possible solutions to the issue. No decisions will be made until the next board meeting on Tuesday, March 12. 

The situation arose because state funding models changed, increasing the costs of the Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS) and State Teachers Retirement System (STRS), salaries and special education programs. In addition, tax revenue was reduced by the moratorium on oil production after the 2015 Refugio oil spill from a large transmission pipeline, according to Superintendent Scott Cory. 

“When the funding model changed in 2013-14, we lost $700,000. Other factors, including losing the oil revenue and increased costs of salaries and benefits,left us in a tight position. This is even before the Olive Grove issue, and if we are forced to pay the money to them, we really need to start this process of figuring out solutions now. They might not be solutions we like, and I of course don’t want to lose essential teachers and staff,” Cory said before the meeting. 

A recent decision by the state Board of Education ordered the high school district to pay as much as $1 million annually to support the Olive Grove Charter School campus in Buellton, though the district is contesting that order.

Cory outlined three possible approaches to the district’s budget:

• Maintaining budgeted expenditures with reserves at 30 percent as well as keeping a $500,000 budget item for parking lot repairs. This option would leave the district with a $1.5 million structural deficit and a reserve of $4.2 million. 

• Maintaining expenditures with reserves at a static $3 million (reserves are at $6.5 million currently) and keeping the $500,000 budget for parking lots. This option would leave the district with a $1.5 million structural deficit and a reserve of $3 million. 

• Cut $250,000 in expenditures, reduce reserves to a static $3 million and cut the $500,000 budget for the parking lot. This option would leave the district with a $1.3 million structural deficit and a reserve of $3 million.

If the district is to make any reductions in staff, it has a deadline of March 15 to send pink slips to certificated staff (teachers) to warn them that they might be laid off, even if their positions aren’t ultimately eliminated. The district would have 60 days to notify classified (non-teaching) staff, Cory said. 

Whatever the board chooses to do has to eliminate more than $400,000 at least, Cory added. 

“Even if we lower the reserve and not spend the monies set aside to do the parking lot, it’s a temporary fix and not a longterm solution. This doesn’t even take into account Olive Grove,” Cory said after the meeting. 

The certificated positions that could be eliminated would be a special education teacher (this person resigned and the position wouldn’t be filled), a Spanish teacher, a physical education teacher, a vacant English position, an auto shop teacher, an art teacher, the band teacher and choir teacher.

Programs lost could be Intro to Education, the auto shop and one section of the EAST technology program. Other programs possibly lost would be the freshman technology class, five sections of media/film/yearbook, the theater program, and elective classes. 

The classified positions at risk are the staff services technician, inhouse suspension supervisor, and the registrar. 

Other options are to eliminate the principal’s position to create a superintendent/principal position for a savings of $185,451, or to eliminate the vice principal’s position to create a principal/vice principal for a savings of $169,517. 

Cory recommended not filling the vacant special education job, cutting the physical education position, reducing English and EAST to one full-time position each rather than 1.2 FTE (fulltime equivalent), cutting the staff services position and in-house suspension supervisor, and cutting the registrar to part time. Those savings would total $405,137. 

Dozens of students, teachers and parents expressed their opposition to laying off Josh McClurg, the physical education teacher and head football coach. 

“Losing Coach McClurg would only hurt the students as he’s more than a football coach and P.E. teacher. He’s a mentor and so many other clubs and organizations would feel the loss of his presence,” said Athletic Director Cris Avery. 

“Coach McClurg is the epitome of Pirate Pride and he helps our youth to succeed. As a female football player he pushes me and challenges me and gives me confidence I wouldn’t have gotten from anyone else,” said student Quincy Valle. 

McClurg spoke and said he wouldn’t be setting a good example for his kids if he didn’t stand up and fight for his position. 

“On paper we are just salary numbers, but what is intangible is our Pirate Pride. I urge you to keep cuts away from the classroom,” McClurg said. 

“Coach McClurg tells us to stand up for what we believe in, and I believe in him. I have been on countless teams and this is the first team I felt the camaraderie in because of him. Coach is like a second father to me and all the other kids he’s coached,” said student Jacob Davies. 

Teacher Melanie Dickey said the district needs to remember that just last year the dean and two teaching positions were eliminated at the district’s Refugio High School and, after much protest and damage to the students, they were ultimately brought back. 

“This is a lesson we just learned, and is a disservice to our students if we put this stress and anxiety on them before we look at all the options,” Dickey added. 

Former board member Bruce Porter said that these decisions are being made because of actions by government leaders. 

“Ask our (county) district supervisor why she voted to put oil production on hold. Those revenues are critical to education funding. Just look at what that decision is doing to Vista Del Mar Union District,” Porter said. 

Vista’s tax revenue plunged after a leaking transmission pipeline halted South Coast oil production in May 2015. The school relied for more than half its budget of roughly $1.2 million on revenues generated by the companies that were affected by the spill, according to the district.

Vista is now considering a merger with Buellton Union School District.

Porter said there are solutions if the board is willing to take a breath and listen to ideas from the community. 

“You have a reserve, and this is exactly what it’s for,” he said. 

EAST teacher Chip Fenenga said that looking ahead three years is unrealistic. 

“As someone who survived Stage 4 cancer, three years is nothing. There are so many variables that can occur in those three years to make a valid prediction,” Fenenga said. 

“If it weren’t for the auto shop department, I wouldn’t have gone onto trade school and become the person I am today and have a successful career. College isn’t for everyone, and having the auto department gave me the skills I needed to succeed in life,” said alumnus Rory Burnett. 

Burnett was followed by Bob Stokes, executive director of the fundraising Wheels n’ Windmills Car Show. 

“We have help supported the auto department in the last 10 years by specifically donating at least $50,000 to the program. Rob Hill (the current auto shop teacher) has given his heart and soul to this program and the kids, and his teachings are invaluable,”  Stokes said. 

Wheel n’ Windmills donated $17,000 to the program this year. 

When the board members discussed the item, they all expressed appreciation for those who came to speak. 

“We hear you. We need to keep the cuts as far from the classroom and students. The reason we were elected is to honor our constituents, and it’s pretty clear what they don’t want,” board member Tory Babcock said. 

Board President Jan Clevenger agreed, saying the school is only as good as the students it produces. 

Board member John Baeke said he knows how hard it becomes when teachers are laid off, as his mother was one in his hometown.  

“She felt that for years after, and this is exactly the opposite of what I campaigned for. I want to bring in teachers and programs, not eliminate them,” he said. 

The board is holding a special closed session today at 3 p.m. before the next regular meeting, but any decision to hand out pink slips or eliminate programs will be made by the March 15 deadline. 

For more information on this meeting, log onto and click on Agendas and Minutes.