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School Layoffs Classified, Certificated Staff Take Hits
An emotional crowd of parents and school employees packed the Riverbank Unified School District meeting on Wednesday to protest the layoff of more than 20 classified staff members such as paraeducators, library clerks and custodians that the board approved despite calls to table the resolution and reexamine the budget figures.

The vote was 3-2 with Board President Egidio "Jeep" Oliveira and Trustee John Mitchell voting against the motion.

In a separate resolution, trustees went ahead with confirming the previously forewarned release of nine teachers, counselors and a special projects coordinator, a vote that Mitchell alone opposed.

Peggy Edwards, a paraeducator at Riverbank High, was one of more than 20 speakers that came to the podium to plead for their children's education and in some cases their own jobs.

"My husband lost his job. Then we couldn't pay the mortgage and lost our house. Now I'm losing my job," she said through her tears. "In the schools, we help out the teachers who don't have the time. We meet the kids on a one to one basis. I became friends with one kid that was utterly lost. Both his parents were in jail. Nobody liked him, he said. I talked to him, encouraged him. A week later in a restaurant he came over to hug me and said things were improving."

Trustees said they acted with reluctance in the face of sinking enrollment, declining state revenues and a persistent budget deficit running at about $1 million per year.

Business manager Carolyn Krisp said for the first time in many years she and Superintendent of Schools Ken Geisick had been summoned to the Stanislaus County Office of Education a few months ago to explain their budget figures and how they intended to meet their financial obligations.

Geisick said the district would not cut library staff at Riverbank High where it is essential to the students. He did not reply to comments that at a time when top administrators should be considering trimming their own pay and benefits the district has extended his annual contract by 10 days, presumably with suitable extra compensation.

Parents, employees and California School Employee Association leaders warned the board against what they called a disastrous step while maintaining the district's financial figures are inaccurate and should be reexamined.

Carrying placards of protest and mostly dressed in union blue T-shirts, the standing room crowd stretched through the boardroom's open doors into the lobby for a three-hour meeting.

Three members of a group called English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC) Margerite Gonzalez, Emilie Marroquin and Jesus Lopez spoke out strongly in favor of retaining the school library clerks and the libraries.

Alternating between Spanish and English, Lopez said he came to this country unable to read and had still only read maybe two to three books in his life. But he was delighted his 10-year-old daughter speaks English fluently and reads every book in sight.

Several speakers noted the importance of school libraries as "safe, secure havens where a student can get away from bullying on the playground and study in peace and quiet."

District Manager of Human Resources Norma Gonzalez informally interpreted from Spanish to English for Lopez and several other speakers from the crowd. One recommendation of ELAC was the district provide a Spanish to English interpreter at every meeting.

In the end, trustees voted to go ahead with dismissing classified employees ranging from three library clerks and three custodians, plus the fulltime equivalent of 6.5 paraeducators, 1.6 special education paraeducators, .8 campus monitors and .8 health clerk/licensed vocational nurses.

The nine certificated staff they confirmed will be released range from five teachers of multiple subjects to a middle school principal also qualified as a social science teacher and the fulltime equivalent of 1.5 counselors, .6 math teachers and .2 special projects coordinator.