About 20 Gunn High School staff, teachers and students stayed until the late hours of Tuesday evening's school board meeting to protest the slashing of five clerical positions, which they described as vital to the school's operations and students' educational experience.
The five full- and part-time positions, which are being eliminated as part of districtwide budget cuts to address a tax shortfall, are typist clerk, computer lab assistant, academic technology specialist, account clerk and attendance/secretary.
The positions represent about $250,000 in savings, according to Chief Budget Officer Cathy Mak.
Despite these positions seeming on the outskirts of the school's essential functions, the speakers argued that the student experience will suffer without them.
"None of them are fat," Laurie Pennington, an instructional supervisor for Gunn's science department, said of the five positions. "They're all muscle and tendon."
The cuts could mean the school's language lab, for example, will not be open next year. Foreign language teachers said they take their classes once a week to the lab and students take tests both during and outside of class time. Two students described the relief of being able to schedule language tests on their own time with the lab assistant when necessary.
Principal Denise Herrmann said she does not intend to close the language lab, but without the assistant, "I don't know who will be staffing it."
The language lab is Gunn's largest computer lab, staff said.
Other Gunn staff members worried about the potential impact the cuts could have on school attendance records, course scheduling, technology support and staff's general ability to respond promptly to students and parents. Science teacher Maria Powell said the loss of the attendance position could also impact progress Gunn has made to comply with state-mandated requirements that changed how the district counts absences last year.
The district is aiming to move these five people into positions they previously held at Gunn, said Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Scott Bowers. The Gunn administration made the cuts in consultation with the Gunn instructional council, the classified employees' union and the district.
Gunn staff are particularly concerned that the cuts come at a time of transition for Gunn, with Herrmann leaving for a position in another school district and a replacement yet to be named. The school is set to roll out several significant initiatives in the fall, including piloting a new social-emotional learning curriculum. Student enrollment is also steadily increasing at Gunn, with just over 2,000 students enrolled for the next school year, staff said Tuesday.
If these clerical positions are eliminated, staff asked, "Who will do the work?"
"Most staff and teachers are already stretched to their limits of what is being asked of them and it seems every year more is being put on everyone's plates without anything being taken off," said Gunn biology teacher Angela Merchant.
The clerical positions have been funded through discretionary dollars, rental revenue and funds from educational nonprofit Partners in Education, all of which have been reduced for the coming school year. As part of its budget cuts, the board approved in May a $20 decrease in the per-student allocation provided to each school, from $105 to $85. The board also increased the district's share of schools' rental revenue for next year.
And PiE -- which had previously funded some of the clerical positions, including the language lab assistant -- changed its approved list of items for funding in the wake of an unexpected drop in overall donations this year.
Although Paly is experiencing similar budget cuts, the school has fewer clerical positions than Gunn, staff said. At Gunn, the positions represent 3.25 full-time employees.
Board members shared the staff's concerns, but said it was inappropriate to change a site-based decision from the dais. They ultimately waived their two-meeting rule and voted 4-1, with Trustee Todd Collins dissenting, to approve a resolution to give 60-day termination notices for these positions.
Staff said the district can rescind the notices before then, but cannot change the positions without sending notices; trustees expressed support for Gunn and the district's human resources department in looking for alternatives to cutting the positions before the 60 days is up.
Board President Terry Godfrey called the vote "regretful." Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell said she supported the vote not because she wanted to, but "to make sure we have as many options as possible and flexibility here."
Collins said he was alarmed to see not a few staff members standing up for colleagues who could lose their jobs, but voicing "genuine concern about how we're going to deliver the kind of experience we all want to deliver to our students."
While he agreed that it's "inappropriate for the board to reach into the school site and tell them how to rearrange their budget, we do set the parameters for this by choosing to limit the cuts of the revenue streams to the school as well as failing to get more cuts at the district office.
"To the extent that we allowed this to happen, that gives me pause," he said.