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Brooke Edwards Staggs, Daily Press
Employees, parents and students packed the boardroom for Victor Valley Union High School District for an emergency meeting Saturday. The board approved sending preliminary layoff notices to 80 workers to help avoid a state takeover.

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VVUHSD approves 80 layoff notices

Split decision follows emotional emergency meeting

VICTORVILLE • A group of counselors stood in a circle, arms linked and tears flowing, as they begged Victor Valley Union High School District's board to let them keep their jobs.

Veteran Joshua Henriksen spoke proudly of all the district’s Cadet Corps has done for his son Cameron, while Jennifer Schmidt said the program at Cobalt Middle School turned her son John from a straight-F student to a nearly-straight-A student.

“He has finally become the man I have been waiting for,” Schmidt said, her voice cracking with emotion.

During a highly charged emergency meeting Saturday, VVUHSD’s board of directors approved sending out preliminary layoff notices to 80 employees. The motions passed 3-2, with members Barbara Dew and Timothy Hauk voting no because they said they hadn’t had enough time to review the proposed cuts.

If the layoffs stand, that means eight counselors and 37 teachers — including those who oversee the Cadet Corps program — will be out of work come June. And 35 workers will be unemployed as of April 26, with cuts hitting everyone from managers to office assistants, custodians to computer technicians.

The proposed cuts came as VVUHSD faces fiscal insolvency and an imminent state takeover amid plummeting property tax revenue and staggering debt payments.

“The problem is that now you are out of cash,” Michelle McClowry, a San Bernardino County-appointed fiscal advisor, told the board. “By March you will have no money to meet payroll and then no one will get paid.”

McClowry said VVUHSD cannot borrow enough to cover the shortfalls. Without making serious cuts, she said the district’s spending deficit would hit $19 million by June and $51 million by June 2014.

“The magnitude of overspending is so huge that you must deal with it now,” she said, encouraging the board to approve the preliminary layoff notices while pushing to renew stalled negotiations with the unions over possible across-the-board cuts.

VVUHSD has to turn a report in to the county on Monday detailing how they’re attempting to curtail costs. If the district isn’t making sufficient progress, the process of turning control over to a state receivership will begin Feb. 15.

The crowd turned on the board numerous times, yelling, stomping their feet and briefly chanting for a recall. And though some employees and parents shouted out in favor of a state takeover, McClowry and board members insisted that move would devastate VVUHSD for the next 20 years.

“If we don’t put these notice in today, we will lose a lot more jobs than this and we will lose a lot more programs than this,” board member Derek King told the crowd. Under the state, he said employees, parents and the board would have no say in how cuts would be made, while the receiver would likely slash district expenses to cover core educational courses alone.

Board member Evelyn Glasper called the preliminary layoff notices a “necessary evil,” with a requirement to notify support staff 65 days in advance and teachers by March 15 if there’s even a chance that they won’t be hired back. However, Glasper and other trustees said they’re optimistic that, between union talks and potential retirements, it won’t be necessary to finalize all 80 layoffs when the time comes.

Administration is expected to pick up negotiations with the bargaining units during closed session this week, as preliminary layoff notices go out in the mail one week before Christmas.

Brooke Edwards Staggs may be reached at (760) 955-5358 or at BEdwards@VVDailyPress.com.

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