The Acorn editorial board put out a bad editorial. And it must be addressed.
Look, I get the purpose of editorial and editorial boards. They're opinion-based. I'm not going to agree with all of them. That's fair.
But when a local paper — any paper — puts out an editorial that is factually wrong and leaves out the appropriate context for the case it is or isn't making ... I'll argue that's reckless. As a publication, editorial or not, papers still have a responsibility to their readers to do their due diligence.
You can read the editorial below ... but please continue reading, for responses from board members Dr. Connolly and Jenny Fitzgerald, which address all of the inaccuracies and problems with this opinion piece.
Board Member Dr. Connolly's Response
Why, oh why, did I read this piece before I went to bed? I'm Kyle Jorrey ing this because I'm pretty sure this is his pen.
The line drawn in this editorial between teacher support for Jenny-Bill-Cindy in 2018 and the current board asking for a budget built on the legislature's proposal is frankly insulting. You've taken a cheap shot.
Worse, you have left readers, who might trust your insight, thinking that there is a way to make cuts now that won't severely impact our readiness for the 20-21 school year. I don't think you actually listened to the meeting. If you had, you would know that the raises, negotiated before COVID19, have been put on hold, that the board asked for next week's budget proposal to include efficiencies such as the travel/conference you call out for ridicule and that Dr. Hayek shared that soft hiring freezes have been in effect since the crisis caused the economy to tank. You would know that a TRANS loan is a cash flow management loan that bridges a gap when funds that have been PROMISED are delayed.
I am the one who called for a no job cuts budget, not Jenny, Bill or Cindy. I stand by that call. Not because I support teachers but because I know that opening our schools, with the programs and supports our families need and expect, is going to require all-hands-on-deck. I know what the people who work for our district do and why we are going to need all of them, more than ever, in the weeks and months to come.
Yes, good governance does mean being able to make tough decisions in a crisis. For me, that means not panicking. It means gathering facts, considering past history, studying options, following events in Sacramento and Washington, and then crafting a plan based on reality and focused on a successful launch of the 20-21 school year. That is exactly what we considered and discussed on Tuesday. The tough decision is not front-loading cuts, it's to hold steady, staying focused on the successful August opening of schools. The tough decision is to trust - our community, our state, and our nation. If all is lost, and COVID19 continues to ravage our economy resulting in funding collapse, cuts will have to be made for 21-22 and beyond, but the facility modifications and program options created in these next few months will endure because they were planned and executed by the entire CVUSD team.
The three new board members did absolutely nothing to earn your derision. The motive you attribute to them, and me, has no basis and it is frankly insulting. You may disagree with my assessment of the current fiscal crisis. Only time will tell who's best-guess judgement is closer to correct, but you have no call to impugn my motives or to assume that my no-job-cuts proposal lacks merit. It is based on 12 years of experience, including my years of service during the Great Recession, and I believe it deserves serious consideration.
Further reading: Dr. Connolly's Facebook Post June 9 - this post details more thoughts on the budget challenges (especially in the multiple comments related to the post.
Board Member Jenny Fitzgerald's Response
Reading today’s editorial in the Acorn about pandemic-driven challenges to CVUSD’s budget for the upcoming school year, I can’t help but feel incredibly disappointed and frustrated that a trusted local news source would publish content so far removed from the facts and context underlying the District’s recent discussions to address those challenges. For those of you that have not yet seen it, the Acorn Editorial Board wrote an inflammatory editorial about claimed inaction on budget issues during a recent board meeting by the three newest trustees, including myself, and then let us know that we are free to respond by letter or guest opinion. The editorial also takes a shameless stab at pitting the newest board members against teachers.
The sweeping judgments in the editorial appear to be an effort to drum up controversy prior to the typical election news cycle and are framed in a similar manner to statements made by Trustee Everett during meetings that are clearly intended to create the false appearance of being a fiscal watchdog. Sadly, for our students and district families, both such efforts are solely for show and demonstrate an utter failure to account for the many existing complexities and realities that the rest of the board is earnestly attempting to tackle. This is unfortunately not the first time this has happened in an Acorn editorial (https://www.toacorn.com/…/editorials-funding-claim-ill-inf…/).
Given the misinformation and misrepresentations in this editorial, it is necessary to provide the public accurate information relating to these incredibly important issues facing our district at this time. The nature of these topics is more involved than what can be captured in sound bites, campaign slogans, or letters to the editor. Instead, I will be breaking the allegations up into separate posts and providing correct information on each.
I ask that you SHARE this post and each of the separate posts, as I have no intention of validating the Acorn’s irresponsibility with a guest column or letter to the editor. Our local news source needs to do better.
The editorial opens by stating that the results of the last school board election created a new vision for the district’s future and then declares, “that future has been upended by the coronavirus.” To clarify this overbroad and grossly false conclusion, the future of our district with a new board included good governance, transparency, and putting students first. While the circumstances we are faced with may have changed since the election and present unique challenges that must be tackled, the new, hopeful future promised by the board has most certainly not.
To the Thousand Oaks Acorn Editorial Board– if you are concerned about the challenges facing our district and the reasoning for my approach in making budget decisions, I invite you to reach out. I’ve yet to refuse to respond to an outreach and I’m more than happy to provide helpful resources for your review on these issues.
* As always, statements/opinions are my own, are not on behalf of the District, and do not necessarily reflect the views of other board members or the Board as a whole.
Subpost No. 1
Acorn editorial: “Meanwhile, the realization has begun to hit that the federal government isn’t coming to the rescue. And while the state’s economic picture could improve and the Legislature could still adopt a budget that’s friendlier to public education, it’s looking more and more like CVUSD will be forced to take drastic, albeit temporary, steps to remain fiscally solvent over the next two to three years.”
Response: This statement is misleading at best and does not account for what we expect to be our reality. The allegation that “it’s looking more and more” like the district will have to take drastic steps is based on an assumption that the Governor’s proposed budget (which calls for drastic cuts) will pass and the Legislature’s version of the budget (which calls for no reductions and in terms of staffing, actually prohibits them for certificated staff such as teachers), will not pass. The budget has yet to be voted on by the state legislature, and the more recent information I have seen and heard highlight’s the push for the Legislature’s version. The reactionary course the Thousand Oaks Acorn Editorial Board advocates for would require irresponsible action to take steps to cut our budget based on incomplete information on what must and can be done. More details on this will be included in separate posts.
Acorn Editorial: “And yet during a three-hour budget meeting on Tuesday, none of the newest members of the board were forthcoming about what cost-cutting measures they supported, opting instead to talk about loans, deferments and other options that only risk leaving the district further behind the eight ball.”
Response: There is a lot about this statement that is untrue, and I am left to wonder whether the Thousand Oaks Acorn Editorial Board truly understands the significance of those items and issues that were discussed. For example, I asked for the proposed budget to include reductions from items such as not filling vacant positions (some of which are carried over from year to year), more precise budgeting based on average amounts spent over the past few years (some departments, for example, do not spend the allocated amount year over year), and we know that district employees have committed to continue working with the district to address any financial cuts (once those are actually known) through various available means. We also know, as is stated in another Acorn article, that Dr. Hayek shared that soft hiring freezes have been in place for some time. I additionally explained that the numbers around these items are necessary in order to make informed decisions as to whether additional cuts are necessary and/or prudent at this time.
The deferrals I spoke about are critical as they are based on the very real possibility that the Legislature’s version of the state budget, which includes deferrals, may pass. As noted in a separate post, there are currently competing versions of a state budget that impact education funding in significantly different ways. The Governor’s proposal includes a 10% reduction to the Local Control Funding Formula, which makes up a majority of the state funding districts receive. However, California Assembly and State leaders recently agreed on a state budget that would rescind the Governor’s cuts to K-12, and would prohibit cuts to teacher staffing. This was likely a result of advocacy work of many local school districts, associations representing school districts, and community members advocating to their state representatives. The Legislature’s version is built on the assumption that federal aid for education will pass and include $14 billion for California (under the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions -HEROES- Act). If the federal funding does not come through in time, the legislature plans to use “deferrals” to eliminate the need for cuts at the local district level. For some background on recent budget discussions and actions at the state level, see https://edsource.org/…/california-lawmakers-would-s…/633091….
The Legislature’s version recognizes the inherent problem with decreasing funding to an already underfunded educational system at a time when districts are actually going to need significantly more funding, resources, and flexibility in order to safely and effectively re-open schools in the wake of COVID-19. Districts will need to be prepared for things such as staffing and supplies for additional school cleaning, protective equipment, new childcare considerations, increased services to address the social emotional and mental health needs of students coming back to school, potential increased staffing needs to accommodate the additional learning platforms being offered to serve students who wish to attend in person or participate in virtual instruction, additional services needed to address learning deficits from school closures (particularly for students in our special education and English learner populations), up to triple the amount of funds for home to school and sports travel depending on the additional number of busses needed to meet social distancing guidelines, and technology equipment, platforms and supports…just to name a few.
Additionally, although I think it goes without saying, schools are critical for the re-opening of the economy. In order for people to go back to work, we need kids back in school.
Further, the loans referenced in the editorial are more nuanced than the Acorn or Trustee Everett represent. Unlike loans taken out because of a lack of revenue or poor budgeting, TRANs (tax revenue anticipation notes) are short-term loans that many districts in California use to address cash flow gaps created by the fact that certain district expenditures are incurred before the time of year when tax revenues are received. While it’s an unfortunate situation, it’s not one reflective of a district in financial peril (check out: https://www.csba.org/…/Decem…/InPrint/2012_DecCSN_TRANS.aspx).
Finally, I should note that my work as a trustee does not begin and end during board meetings. For example, I currently serve on the Budget/LCAP committee and have worked with the members of that committee to set up a process to continuing reviewing district items for potential elimination/reduction/re-working. This process began last year (long before COVID-19 was even a thought) as part of the effort to meet the new Board’s goal of reducing the district’s pre-existing budget deficit over a three-year period. These efforts will continue regardless of COVID-19. Additionally, I was recently elected to serve on the Delegate Assembly for the California School Boards Association, which provides me the opportunity to represent local districts in our geographic area and advocate for necessary educational changes, including increased funding.
Acorn Editorial: “Good governance means being able to make tough decisions in a crisis.”
Response: Yes, it does. However, in implying that this has not happened, I am left to wonder whether the Thousand Oaks Acorn Editorial Board has watched the same board meetings I have sat through during the last two years. During that time frame, we have governed successfully and made tough decisions through times of crisis such as fires and evacuations, and a local mass shooting. Also, in spite of one board member’s constant and incessant attempts at undermining every effort of the district and fellow board members (here’s a glimpse: https://www.toacorn.com/…/supe-calls-out-trustee-for-false…/), even in the face of the consistent genuine attempts to work together, we have moved our district forward in many meaningful ways (for example: https://www.toacorn.com/articles/distractions-hurt-students/; http://www.conejousd.org/Departments/Superintendent).
Further, “good governance” certainly doesn’t mean acting in an irrational or reactionary manner without taking the time to understand our funding landscape or the many complicated dynamics underlying our budget decisions. As a board member, I intend to continue putting in the effort and time needed to make thoughtful decisions. I hope this is an approach the Acorn Editorial Board will adopt before weighing in on such critical matters in the future.
Acorn Editorial: “A student-first approach would include taking proactive steps to ensure cuts are made as far away from the classroom as possible.”
Additionally, in an email to me last night, Mr. Jorrey stated: “It is our belief that cuts now are the prudent move to limit the need for severe layoffs and program losses in the future (or, God forbid, anymore school closures). As we've all said before, Thousand Oaks' quality public schools are the No. 1 reason people move to T.O. and any major program cuts or increase in class sizes will hurt the community as a whole. In the view of the Acorn editorial board, we must do everything in our power to avoid that, even if it requires great sacrifices by employees from the top to the bottom, including our beloved teachers.”
Response: Protecting our students and classrooms is quite literally what we are working to ensure, and I intend to continue to do so based upon an analysis of the relevant and necessary information, much of which is not yet known (please see other posts for further details). As an initial matter, increases to class sizes have not been proposed by the Board to date. Additionally, the option of making general teacher cuts is not currently a realistic option given that we are not over-staffed and the state has not waived the TK-3 class size reduction requirements. Setting this factual impediment aside, our “beloved teachers” are the backbone of our quality public schools. Most parents who have now been through distance learning will likely share that no textbook or online resource or student program can replace a quality teacher. I fail to see how cutting teachers equates to making cuts “as far away from the classroom as possible.” It suggests that the physical school building alone, not the teacher, is what creates our quality public schools - I wholeheartedly disagree.
I also do not follow how making cuts now will prevent further school closures. As explained in other posts, we need substantially more funding in order to safely and effectively re-open schools in the fall.
Thousand Oaks Acorn Editorial: “It’s time for the newest members of the board to make good on their campaign promises—even if it risks offending those same teachers who helped to elect them.”
Response: This statement implies that the newest board members have not made good on campaign promises and I see no factual indication of this. Additionally, the notion that my decisions are based on not wanting to upset teachers who helped elect me is flawed for numerous reasons. Of significant note, the legislature’s version of the budget would actually prohibit districts’ ability to lay off certificated staff, including teachers, this summer.
That important reality aside, my general support for teachers is because … wait for it … I support teachers (see “Teacher Support” here: https://www.fitzgeraldforschoolboard.com/issues). I subscribe to the notion that what is good for teachers, is often what is good for students. If distance learning has shown us nothing else as we attempted to navigate new territory as parents, it has hopefully demonstrated the importance of teachers. That being said, anyone who knows me in just about any capacity is aware that I don’t shy away from things because of how I will be perceived. Sometimes people agree with my decisions and sometimes they don’t. My decisions are ultimately based on how I answer the question, “is this the right thing to do for our schools and students?”
Mr. Jorrey’s “heads up” email to me regarding this Thousand Oaks Acorn editorial, which was received about thirty minutes prior to the online posting of the editorial, referenced that the new board members, “seem to be focused on trying to get outside help or kicking the proverbial can rather than acknowledging the dire nature of the current situation and the need to begin the process immediately of making cuts wherever possible.”
The allegation that my focus is on pushing the problem down the road rather than acknowledging the dire nature of the situation is severely lacking support for reasons discussed in other posts. These statements also ignore that my acknowledgement of and assessment of the nature of the current situation is informed. Additionally, I make no apologies for my efforts to advocate for additional state and federal funding for education, particularly in light of the impacts of COVID-19 on schools. I was extremely disappointed that Trustee Everett voted against the resolution I requested to be placed on a recent agenda, and which was passed in a 4-1 vote, calling on our Congressional delegation and Governor to advocate for additional funding to prioritize stable funding for public schools. I strongly urge anyone who cares about our public schools to help advocate for necessary funding. Here are a couple links that provide helpful information and resources: https://educatingthroughcrisis.org/take-action/; http://covid19.csba.org/covid-19/#advocacy-toolkit.
source: Jenny's Facebook Page