EUSD Board continues school enrichment programs

EUSD Board continues school enrichment programs
Mikayla McFadden, a teacher at Paul Ecke Central, speaks at the Encinitas Union School District Board meeting on Wednesday. Photo by Aaron Burgin

ENCINITAS — The Encinitas Union School District this week voted to continue its funding arrangement for the district’s enrichment program, a plan the board approved last year as a compromise over whether the district should spend thousands to continue its yoga program.

Yoga is part of the enrichment program — students at the district’s nine campuses practice it one day a week — but during the second day of the enrichment program, each school has its own unique program with activities ranging from additional physical education, science teaching, performing and visual arts and other health and wellness programs.

The school board voted 3-1 at its March 14 meeting to continue the program, which splits the cost between the district and the individual campuses. Leslie Schneider, who before the election was one of the more vocal critics of the district’s previous funding proposal, voted against the current funding arrangement.

Board president Gregg Sonken was absent.

The program calls for the district to fund about $458,000, and the sites to combine for the $435,464 for the second enrichment day.

The board’s vote came after parents, principals, teachers and students spoke at the board meeting in favor of maintaining the programs, which they said are win wins for all of them. No one spoke against the proposal at the meeting.

“To me, the fact that we have all of our stakeholders … our students, our parents, our teachers and especially the fact that we had every principal sign a letter asking that this program remain, that speaks volumes,” Marla Strich said.

This was a contrast from 2016, when the school district found itself in a controversy when it proposed spending $800,000 to continue the district’s two-day-a-week yoga program after it lost the grant funding used to start and maintain it. A group of parents spearheaded a campaign to force the board to reverse the proposal.

The board chose the current compromise, which has yielded a special day of instruction on the campuses, which eight campuses call “The Wheel” and a ninth campus, Paul Ecke Central, calls “specials.” On that day, enrichment teachers immerse students in the various enrichment programs, which allows for the classroom teachers to have a needed day of collaboration.

One by one, a dozen speakers took to the podium in front of the audience of about 40 people at the board meeting. Each spoke in favor of the program, calling it a “game changer” for the district.

“I love school and I love my teacher, but my favorite day is ‘specials,’” said Rowan McFadden, a third grade girl at Paul Ecke Central, where her mother Mikayla is a teacher. “I would rather go to specials once a week than to the farm lab once a year.”

Board members said that they also had received a number of emails on the topic, acknowledging that some of the emails were critical of the program.

But board member Rimga Viskanta said that the overwhelming majority of the communications were in favor of the enrichment program as-is, and that she didn’t feel that the district’s test score and student achievement data backed up critics’ concerns that the district was not adequately addressing its core education functions.

Schneider, who cast the lone “no” vote, said she didn’t question the value of the program for the individual campuses, but felt the district should pay the money to the schools and allow them to fund the programs they choose, as opposed to the current structure of a mandatory yoga day.

“If the district has money to share with sites for instruction time, then make those dollars unrestricted and allow sites to access more,” Schneider said in a statement after the meeting. “Don’t carve out $400,000 for yoga teachers and make parents pay for academics and PE teachers. I want our district to support site level autonomy and priorities.”

Schneider also questioned if the district had followed through on a pledge to look for non-district funds to pay for the yoga program. In 2016, Baird said that the funding would be bridged to allow the district to search for other grants to pay for yoga, after the Sonima Foundation stopped funding the program.

“This was supposed to be a bridge year,” Schneider said. “Where are the other funders? I want our district to honor its promises.”

Baird said after the meeting that the district has had preliminary talks with at least three potential benefactors, and would be following up in the coming months.

“We are fully committed to searching for other funding sources, but we also believe that if the district believes in the program, we should be paying for it,” Baird said.

The board’s decision also means that the district will not have to issue layoff notices to the district’s enrichment teachers, another benefit, board members said.

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