Pleasant Ridge school board OKs layoffs, program reduction |

Pleasant Ridge school board OKs layoffs, program reduction

A 3-2 vote by the Pleasant Ridge School District board of trustees will result in the layoff of eight full-time employees, one of which is Anne Vaaler, the choral music director at Magnolia Intermediate School.

“It’s going to be restructured with one less teacher,” Pleasant Ridge Superintendent Britta Skavdahl said of the music program, saying the layoffs are necessary because of the district’s budget situation. “We can still provide the service on a restructured level so every student will have the experience.”

The action had to be decided before the March 15 state deadline, when teachers must be notified of layoffs, though the action could be rescinded up until the start of the next school year if the budget situation improves.

With only one teacher to cover the band and choir, a program that still serves all students is unrealistic, said Vaaler, whose husband, Phil Richardson, already has a full plate in leading the band.

“To say it is restructuring and not reduction is disingenuous,” Vaaler said. “When you have one person do it all, something suffers.”

Vaaler said she teaches choir at the same time Richardson teaches band and the advanced jazz band would have to be eliminated if the reduction was maintained.

“You’d have to be in the middle school for four periods, then in the hour and a half in between they would either need to get to Alta Sierra or walk to Cottage Hill,” Vaaler said. “He teaches band at the same time I teach fourth and fifth grade. We split the second- and third-grade classes; and I think what they’re anticipating is if there’s any time left over, then the other classes would have music maybe once every other week. It’s not quality.”

On Tuesday night, Mary Newberry and Scott Hopper voted against the reduction, while Lauretta Muzio, Deanne Opdahl and Joann Rossovich voted in favor.

The music program’s ability to reach every student was what led to Newberry’s decision to vote against reducing the program, she said.

“During the budget focus committee meetings, they said if you were going to dilute or cut a program, you should cut the one that affects the fewest number of students and this program reaches all students, so I couldn’t in good conscience vote against that,” said Newberry.

The successful music program is part of what makes Pleasant Ridge an attractive district, said Vaaler, suggesting the reduction in program would cause some parents to look to other districts.

“We look for the thing that sets the district apart and that is one of our key things that our district has been proud of,” Vaaler said.

One parent said music is like a sport to many children, but offers more in terms of academic progression.

“There’s not a lot to do for kids, especially living in the country, and for a lot of kids this is their sport,” said Laura Patrick, whose daughter, Hailey, participates in the Magnolia Starmakers program. “They compete at these shows and that’s their game. And no one wants to take away a sport, but it’s easy to take this away and it’s totally wrong because this is what stimulates the brain most.”

Patrick said she was frustrated that Muzio could vote in favor of the reduction when her own children had benefited from the program.

“I thought, ‘That’s nice, your kids got through it and now you vote to take it away?’ I don’t like that,” Patrick said. “I have a sixth-grader and if they cut this, she doesn’t get to go on. And if they take away (Vaaler), who is supposed to do the choir? Mr. Richardson? He does instruments.”

Patrick also suggested that administration be cut since enrollment has been declining and that the computer programs be delayed, as students already have computer skills and are technological savvy.

During Tuesday’s meeting, the district’s fiscal report noted the preliminary layoffs and reductions were due to the district facing a 22.27 percent deficit.

“What that equates to is that for every dollar the state owes us, they can only afford to give us about 78 cents back,” Skavdahl said.

Measure K, a tax assessment that failed last fall, would have provided $920,000 to the district annually for special programs. Proponents warned the community that if the measure did not pass, cuts would have to follow.

“Early this fall the District held a number of budget information sessions for our stakeholders (including one dedicated to the chamber of commerce) to clearly articulate to the community the financial need for the revenue Measure K would have generated,” said Muzio, the board’s president.

Vaaler said the failure of Measure K is typical in Nevada County, as its older, fixed-income population tends not to vote in favor of tax increases.

Until a finalized budget is released in May, students, parents and teachers in support of the music program will anxiously wait.

“It is not really just a reduction in personnel, it is the reduction in a program and the community has consistently told the board that this is a priority for us,” said Sonia Delgadillo, parent of a Magnolia Starmakers member. “We will continue to fight. This is definitely not over.”

To contact Staff Writer Jennifer Terman, email or call 530-477-4230.

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