.Live Oak Lays Off Teachers

Teachers declare vote of no confidence in superintendent

After delaying the vote on preliminary layoffs last week amid fierce public backlash, the trustees of the Live Oak School District (LOSD) voted unanimously to pass layoff notices to 42 full time employees. Additionally, nine jobs currently empty will not be filled.

Among the layoffs are a physical education teacher, seven elementary school teachers, a school psychologist, the Director of Special Education, and two preschool teachers.

After doing so, the Live Oak Elementary Teachers Association (LOETA) President Lauren Pomrantz and Vice-President Emily Avila charged LOSD Superintendent Daisy Morales with “neglecting to take actions to prevent our district’s fall into a multi-million dollar deficit.” 

They asked that the Board “reconsider the terms of the contract for the superintendent.”

Yard Duty Supervisors, Night Custodians, and six Reading/Math Aides are also on the chopping block.

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On the administrative side, the Director of Fiscal Services, Director of IT,  an administrative secretary, a financial analyst and three Family Liaisons will also be cut.

LOSD Board President Kristin Pfotenhauer said the Board listened to the parents and teachers and included more administrative jobs in the layoffs.

Pfotenhauer reiterated that these layoffs are not final, awaiting feedback from the parents on Thursday. The final vote from the Board on its fiscal stabilization plan will be on March 6 at Live Oak Elementary before the state’s March 15 deadline.

Pfotenhauer also said that by answering audience questions out of turn during the meeting she had not followed the Brown Act, the code governing how public school board meetings are run in the state of California. 

Pomrantz says the teachers’ union is angry with more than just the layoffs. Red flags were raised internally for years that were ignored by the District as it embarked on big initiatives that it did not effectively plan or fund, according to Pomrantz.

This includes initiatives such as the District’s plans for workforce housing, a new preschool, support programs and the capital facilities bond, says Pomrantz.

Superintendent Morales has also expressed anti-union sentiment, according to Pomrantz, and accuses her of saying she would “‘find someone else to do the job,’” during labor negotiations.

 The LOETA also accuses Morales of withholding information from the Board, and discouraging the District’s administration from talking to the Board in full confidence about what was going on. 

Board member Jeremy Ray thinks that there is a good reason why a strict separation exists between the Board and the administration. If an individual Board member is directing staff time, that doesn’t work because it undercuts the entire operation of the superintendent, Ray says.

Comparing the school board’s relationship to the administration to the city council and city staff, Ray says, “It is really not appropriate for me to contact the chief budget officer and start asking him questions without going through the superintendent.”

The new Chief Budget Officer Kim Hanwool only started in November after the past chief Alison Warner left after fierce labor negotiations, so Ray hasn’t had time to develop a relationship with him yet. 

For Lauren Pomrantz the question comes down to what happened in December, 2023, when the state decertified the district’s budget. Before that happened, there was not a single word out about the budget problem from the district office.

This is why the teachers passed a vote of no confidence in Morales for “abetting the insulation of the Board of Trustees from any sources of information other than what she provides.” 82% of the union signed the vote of no confidence. The rest were afraid of retribution from Morales, according to Pomrantz.

When asked by this reporter to respond to the allegation made by the LOETA that she controlled information given to the Board, she said, “I do not respond.” 

Another allegation by the teachers is that Morales’s mentorship of the youngest member of the Board of Trustees, Marlize Velasco, is a conflict of interest. Velasco is a UC Santa Cruz student who began her term in 2022 when no one else filed to run. 

Velasco said she did get a binder of information from Morales.

“What hurts me is that they do not see me as my own person, ” Velasco said.

There has been a lot of catching up to do, Velasco said, with having to go through years of documents. She has reached out to the County Office of Education to get more data on the school’s comparative financial situation.

“I support Daisy,” Velasco said.

How to Save the Teachers?

Members of the teacher’s union think there could be another way.

Theresa Gilbert, a third grade teacher at Green Acres Elementary School, told the Board they should consider furloughs. She remembers taking a furlough-day during the Great Recession and doesn’t see why the staff of LOSD couldn’t take furloughs to keep those on payroll who work with the kids. 

Anybody who doesn’t work directly with children should furlow 5-15 days,” she said. “I do know that the Superintendent makes $1,000 [a day]. I do know that one RTI, who is a Response Intervention teacher makes $435 a week. So you can fund a whole department [with furloughs].”

By all accounts Live Oak School District is “top-heavy,” spending 8% of its budget on administration, while the average school spends 5% in California, according to California Department of Education data. 

In the last four years, teacher salaries have declined 5%, while superintendent and administrative salaries have risen 49%, although from a much smaller base.

Not included in the layoff notices given at the Feb. 27 meeting was former Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources Heidi Odom, who announced her resignation last week. She proposed that her job be dispersed into four separate positions.

Gilbert believes they are going to replace Odom with someone at a similar salary. In 2022-23, the Chief HR Officer made a minimum of $137,349, according to the Cabinet Salary Schedule.

“They are obviously going to hire-in behind her,” Gilbert said.  “And they’re going to pay this new person how much money?”

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