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Hart lays off 44

• District's cuts take effect July 1

Posted: May 9, 2008 2:18 a.m.
Updated: July 10, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Despite pleas from resource teachers, their students and some of the resource instructional assistants themselves, the Hart district governing board voted Wednesday night to authorize the layoffs off 44 classified personnel, including 30 instructional assistants from the district's resource program.

The layoffs are part of more than $10 million in cuts made by the William S. Hart Union High School District in March in order to meet the state's proposed budget requirements.

The district is required to give employees in these positions 45 days notice of their displacement and re-employment rights, and the layoffs will take effect July 1. With some employees leaving through attrition, the district hopes to be able to reassign the laid off employees to other positions.

"At this point, we are probably looking at eight out of the 44 (laid off employees) without a position," said Rochelle Neal, the district's director of human resources.

It was the fate of the resource instructional assistants that seemed to incite the most emotion in the people who spoke during the public comment portion of wednesday's meeting.

"Before I was in resource, I struggled so much in school, especially in math," said Rachel Cox, a Resource student at Valencia High School. Cox told the board how an instructional assistant at her school has helped her so much that they have become good friends.

"I'm sorry, it's just really hard," Cox said, starting to cry. "To think of her losing her job is just devastating to me. To think that other students will come to Valencia High School and she won't be there is really hard for me."

Resource students are in the special education program less than 50 percent of their school day, spending most of their time in a regular classroom. The resource instructional Assistants perform many tasks to help district resource teachers, including reading tests to students who have difficulty reading, providing math support and assisting resource students in their mainstream classrooms.

According to Teresa Avila, resource instructional assistant at Saugus High School, the role of the assistants goes far beyond just helping out in the classroom.

"My whole life has been with students. I've built close bonds with them, and I'm more than just an instructional assistant to them," Avila said. "We meet these kids at lunch and brunch and after school to help them. I've helped them pick out prom dresses."

Senior Christine Caper said she wouldn't be graduating next month if it weren't for the instructional assistants.

"I've been in the RSP (resource) program since I was in second grade, and there has always been an instructional assistant to help me," Christine said. "I'm graduating this year, but I wouldn't be graduating if it weren't for the assistants."

Jaide McClinton, a Resource instructional assistant at Valencia High School, was at the meeting to present the human side of the layoff issue.

"I just wanted you to see the face of a person who is affected by this,' McClinton said. "We work hand in hand with the resource teachers to help these students, and to eliminate us, you're going to be breaking bonds between resource assistants and their students."

Gail Quinn, resource specialist at Valencia High School and a staff member there for 24 years, asked the board to please find another way to cut the district budget.

"I'm very concerned about the elimination of the resource assistants," Quinn said. "I would like to impress upon the board that the resource instructional assistants are a very integral part of that program."

After listening to these and other comments from those gathered, along with a report from Vicki Engbrecht, assistant superintendent, educational services for the district, about the restructuring of the special education program that is already underway, the board voted to approve the layoffs.

"These budget cuts, unfortunately, are on the backs of our students," said Gloria Mercado-Fortine, board president. "Someone said they wanted to come here to put a face to these cuts, and believe me, we do not do this lightly."

The layoffs also include one intermediate account clerk position (Business Services); one clerk typist position (Learning Post); one program assistant position (Special Programs); two instructional assistant positions, special education (Learning Post, Sequoia Charter); three campus supervisor positions (Canyon and Golden Valley high schools and Sierra Vista Junior High); and six custodian positions (one at each junior high).


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