The teachers of Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association commend our superintendent and board of trustees for their efforts to introduce innovation and diverse learning models into our district.
We know that parents, students and the community at large have entrusted us with nurturing the creativity, academic progress and civic life of our students. These are particularly challenging times for our public schools. We have experienced painful cuts in programs and opportunities for our students. We understand that times are hard, and we are tightening our belts.
As we always have, the teachers of Lucia Mar will find a way to rise to this challenge — with fewer resources and less support — because our students don’t have the luxury of postponing their education or curtailing their dreams until better times.
At a school board meeting on Sept. 20, teachers from throughout the Lucia Mar Unified School District, from elementary to high school, presented a heartbreaking list of cuts in programs, resources and staff. These include librarians, computer lab techs, literacy support aides, counselors, coaches and teaching positions in core areas such as math, English and special education. Programs in the arts, vocational education and athletics have been reduced or eliminated. Nipomo High School no longer has a boys tennis team. Arroyo Grande High School no longer offers regular dance classes. Elementary and middle school music programs have been decimated.
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Classrooms are overcrowded; lower elementary classes have increased by as much as 50 percent. Teachers lack basic necessities such as paper and classroom supplies. Purchase, maintenance and upgrades of technology are not funded. Textbooks haven’t been updated in years.
While these painful cuts impact our classrooms daily, the district administration and board of trustees have approved and given top priority to several costly programs, without identifying stable mechanisms for funding.
New Tech High School, which is in the early stages of planning on the campus of Nipomo High School, is one particular area of concern. This project is being developed under a proposed contractual agreement with the New Tech Network, a private corporation which would provide consultation, support, licensing and implementation of the Project-Based Learning model for instruction, at significant annual cost to the district. New Tech High is not really a “school within a school,” as it has been described, which would at least allow for shared resources and personnel.
Instead, the current Nipomo High School campus will be divided with a fence into two separate facilities. According to the New Tech model, the new school would have separate administration, student body, programs, infrastructure and curriculum. Maximum enrollment after buildout would be 500 students, at a student-to-teacher ratio of 25:1. Construction costs exceed $6 million at present, and ongoing costs for staffing and technology resources (a one-to-one student-to-computer ratio) are high.
LMUTA would like for parents, teachers, students and district administrators to enter into constructive dialogue about district funding priorities, and identify those programs and resources necessary to meet the most urgent needs of all students. While we do not oppose experimental projects such as New Tech High, we cannot in good conscience endorse this project as a funding priority while basic needs are unmet.
Although our Superintendent hopes to fund New Tech High from corporate and private donations, facilitated by his Foundation for Innovation, he has achieved only a fraction of his fundraising goals. Without a dedicated funding mechanism for New Tech High, the likelihood of future encroachment on the Lucia Mar general fund is almost certain. We cannot afford to jeopardize equitable resources, support and staffing for the majority of more than 10,000 Lucia Mar students, in service to the few.
Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association is committed to equity and opportunity for all. We have a strong conviction that we can and will continue to meet the needs of our students in the 21st century with excellent teaching and the innovation we engage in every day in our classrooms.
Donna Kandel teaches mathematics at Nipomo High School and serves on the executive council of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association.