School detention specialist may be axed due to budget

Written by Jessica Cejnar, The Triplicate October 26, 2012 12:01 am

Up to 50 students find their way to the room of Katie Rawlings at Crescent Elk Middle School during the lunch period.

Rawlings, a student conduct specialist, supervises students who have detention. They come to make up schoolwork or because they were too disruptive to remain in their classroom. She also keeps track of who is on school grounds, making sure they have a valid reason to be there. 

But pending a final decision from the Del Norte County Unified School District Board of Trustees, Rawlings may be out of a job.

 

Recently district officials proposed eliminating the position. But after hearing conflicting reports on whether Crescent Elk teachers favored the move, Board members decided to table the issue. They said  Crescent Elk Principal William Hartwick should be part of the discussion.

“I’d like to hear from Mr. Hartwick,” said Board member Don McArthur. “Nobody wants to do this or anything like it.”

With an expected $2.4 million deficit to make up next fiscal year and a possible $1.4 million in cuts if propositions 30 and 38 both fail, the Board in August began looking for ways to save money for the 2013–14 school year, Superintendent Don Olson said.

The Board originally voted to cease funding Crescent Elk’s student conduct specialist position at its Aug. 9 meeting. Olson said he asked Hartwick if the school would like to continue funding the position using money from its own budget, but after meeting with his staff Hartwick replied that the school also couldn’t fund the position.

Eliminating the full-time, classified position would save about $47,899 per year, according to the district. District officials estimate that eliminating the position now would save the district $32,915 for the 2012–13 school year. Under state law, once the Board approves eliminating the position, the district would have to issue a formal layoff notice 45 days in advance.

Olson said that because Rawlings has worked in the district for 30 years, longer than most of its school monitors, she would have top priority when it came to re-
employment in a school monitor position. If she was rehired, Rawlings’ work hours would be reduced to 3.75 hours a day, Olson said.

According to Patti Rommel, a local California School Employees Association representative, the union that represents classified staff members, under state law positions can only be eliminated if there is a lack of funds or a lack of work. 

Rommel and Rawlings went before the School Board with a year’s worth of records that Rawlings had kept showing how many students she saw on a given day. According to Rawlings’ own records, there were 463 in-house suspensions or detentions last April last year. In May, there were 967 student visits to Rawlings, she said. She added that roughly 40 students are sent to her on a given day.

“Not every kid goes to in-house; the majority of them don’t,” she said.

In a separate report to the School Board last week, Olson said Crescent Elk Middle School showed a 60 percent reduction in suspensions last year. So far this year it has only had six suspensions, he said.

But Rommel and Rawlings begged to differ.

“She’s talked to teachers,” Rommel said, referring to Rawlings. “Those teachers have not seen a change in student behavior. We know the work is there (and) there’s no lack of funds. You do not have a lack of funds until the 2013–14 school year.”

Rawlings said the teachers at Crescent Elk voted in favor of eliminating the student conduct specialist position because they were under the impression that she would be “taken care of.” Rawlings said she found out from another teacher that her position may be eliminated.

“I’m the longest (-running) employee at Crescent Elk. I’m really good with the students,” she said with tears in her eyes.

After hearing from Rommel and Rawlings, the Board found itself in a dilemma. Board President Frances Costello said Board members were led to believe that Crescent Elk staff was in favor of eliminating the student conduct specialist position.

“We need to hear from the building principal in times like this,” she said. “I don’t think this should have been put on the shoulders of the employee.”

This issue is expected to be brought back before the board on Nov. 8. 

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