.Live Oak School District Votes On Layoffs

Superintendent’s future in question

Two layoff plans will be voted on by the Live Oak School Board on March 6 after a week of tense discussions over the future of the District. To prevent insolvency and takeover from the state, the Board has to fill a $2.9 million deficit for the 2024-2025 school year by March 15.

Both plans cut approximately $4.8 million cumulatively from the Live Oak School Board District’s (LOSD) payroll over the next two school years. Plan A calls for 10.73 full time teacher jobs to be cut, while Plan B has 11.73 teacher jobs laid-off. The difference is an elementary school physical education position.

Plans A and B also call for a $290,000 cut to the Special Education program and five full time job cuts to “classroom support.” 

Vice-president of the Live Oak Teachers Association (LOEFTA) Emily Avila thinks this is an example of the District’s “band-aides over the bullet holes” approach to decision making. The special education population has risen in recent years and without aides in the classroom more parents will choose “individual education plans” which can cost the District even more money.

The Ocean Alternative Education Center, the home schooling program for the LOSD, could  also be hit with layoffs. 

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“I often work with a single child from kindergarten through eighth grade,” said Deb Bell of Ocean Alternative. ‘We are not an interchangeable cog with staffing with the rest of the district because we have specialized work that we do.”

Other ways to stabilize the District were discussed. Board members Krisitin Pfotenhauer and Jeremy Ray said they are open to the idea of merging Del Mar and Green Acres elementaries. 

Under both plans, LOSD will reorganize district staff, which would move jobs down a full pay grade. “Cabinet” positions will be dropped to the “director” pay grade, and “director” down to “coordinator.” 

Assistant-Superintendents Heidi Odom’s positions will be reduced to a Director of Human Resources and Assistant-Superintendent of Business Services Hanwool Kim will become Chief Business Officer.

Morales will take five furlough days, saving over $5,000 for the District next year. Her salary will be $223,831 for 2024-25. 

Brooke Bond, a member of the Green Acres Site Council says five furlough days is not enough and would rather see 15-20 days and for more positions. Bond thinks that the District is still misleading parents because the materials they handed out to parents didn’t match the presentation given.

Parents and students were surveyed by the District to see which jobs they were in favor of saving, however, Board President Kristin Pfotenhauer admitted the process was flawed because only gmail users were able to access the poll.

Hanwool Kim said the online voting was “taken into consideration,” but his office will continue to crunch the numbers to save as many jobs as possible before March 6.

Pfotenhauer also said on February 27th that by answering audience questions out of turn during the previous meeting she had not followed the Brown Act, the code governing how public school board meetings are run in the state of California. 

The Union’s Complaints

On February 27, Live Oak Elementary Teachers Association 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.”

Pomrantz said 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.

In the last six years, the District’s total expense for teacher salaries decreased 5% as the teachers got a 15% raise because of decreased enrollment. Total administrative salaries have risen 49% during this same time. LOSD has seven positions at the “Director” paygrade versus two positions at Soquel, a similarly sized district by students. This has given the District office a reputation for being “top-heavy.” 

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

According to Avila, the District’s Special Education department is a mess. People have blown the whistle only to retaliate against. have the that students who have aides written into their individual education plans

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. 

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.”

Kim only started in November after the past business 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.

The Future of Morales?

Morales apologized to the teachers and parents at the board meeting on February 29, admitting that she had not been transparent enough.

“Those of you who know me well know that my heart is guarded for good reasons,” said Morales. “But I know I have to come to work not just to be effective and efficient and dependable  but I have to be open and vulnerable and that is how I want to lead.”

Parents and teachers said they thought this was disingenuous because she gave the same speech at both the parent and board meetings, pausing at the same moments.

“Her apology and her tears were totally forced,” said Emily Avila of LOETA.

But Pfotenhauer ended the board meeting by acknowledging that the Board was unsure about Morales’ future.

“I do stand by Dr. Morales’ strengths but it is clear there are a lot of weaknesses. I am not sure how we are going to move forward,” said Pfotenhauer. 

However, it could be difficult to fire Morales. The Board extended Morales’ contract last year, and her contract now expires 6/30/2026.

Pfotenhauer suggested a parent advisory committee to oversee fundraising, but she admitted that the Live Oak community lacked trust in them to carry it out. 

Morales had previously sent out a link to parents for a “ParentSquare” fundraiser, to raise $3 million. 

“Understandably those that might be willing to donate might be reluctant because they don’t trust us,” said Pfotenhauer.

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