VISTA — After floating the idea of a closure of Alta Vista Continuation School as a budgetary measure, a proposal first reported on by The Coast News, Vista Unified School District Superintendent Linda Kimble has taken the plan off of the docket.
The decision came after weeks of advocacy and protest against the proposal by the group Save Alta Vista High School, a loose coalition of Vista Unified parents and other stakeholders who have stated concerns about the closure proposal potentially leaving vulnerable students behind.
Continuation schools serve students who, for a variety of reasons, take time off of school and come back to continue their studies while still legally children.
In reaction to the news, the Save Alta Vista High School coalition exercised cautious optimism.
“The Board has taken Alta Vista off of the cut list temporarily,” the group wrote on Facebook. “The school is safe from any concrete decisions until March 5, when Alta Vista will be ruled upon again (by the Vista Unified School District Board of Education). We have made progress but it’s far from over yet.”
But Lisa Contreras, director of communications for the Vista Unified School District, said that the decision is final and will not come before the Board of Education at the March meeting.
“(Superintendent Kimble) has a goal of reducing costs by almost $15 million dollars annually,” explained Contreras. “(At the Feb. 7 board meeting), they reviewed a list of about 40 possible reductions. The board decided to remove the closure of Alta and the merger of the students to the Major General Murray campus from the list of reductions.”
Due to what she describes as a lack of an open and clear line of communication between the superintendent’s office and parents, Vista parent Shiloh Strawbridge said she is “wary” about the announcement.
The discussion at the Feb. 7 board meeting made it “seem like it will come up again after other cuts are discussed,” Strawbridge said. “So I asked a board member, a few hours after the board meeting, explicitly, ‘When you guys took it off the budget cut list does that mean that the school is saved?’ and that board member replied, ‘No. Just removed from cuts.’ So, I’m not sure how, with no further communication from the board, this is so settled.”
On Feb. 8, though, Kimble sent a letter out to the school district’s email list stating in plain terms that the school will remain open.
Yet, in place of shuttering Alta Vista, a school which opened in 1978, Kimble has proposed many other budget cuts, one proposal of which still would impact the school. The cuts have received priority levels of 1-3, with the first level of priority categorized as “No impact to students,” according to an explanation provided to The Coast News by Contreras.
Included in those cuts, according to a 2019-20 Budget Reductions proposal sheet published by the Board of Education, are cutting two school principal job slots for individuals who had since been on special assignment in other positions within the district.
One of those two is retiring and her position will not be refilled by another individual, while the other is moving to a different job within the district.
Multiple staff secretaries are also on the chopping block, a district-wide instructional aide will face a layoff, and the safety and environmental manager will soon retire and that position will go unfilled to save budget space, among other line items.
Contreras said that “The proposed reduction at both campuses is to right size the staffing to the amount of students at the schools,” while also noting that some of the cuts involve money-saving mechanisms such as reducing 12-month salaried positions to only 10-month ones and altering funding streams themselves so that funding will come from a different budgetary area.
But Strawbridge decried the lack of robust discussion about each proposed cut unfolding within the school board, saying she does not believe the cuts will not end up impacting students. She and other Vista Unified parents have sent a letter to the Board of Education calling for the budget to receive a third party audit.
“There are huge decisions being made as if they are simple items on a spreadsheet,” Strawbridge said. “The lack of oversight, and lack of analysis, when these decisions are being made, is staggering. The superintendent is the primary conduit of information to the board, and that information is very limited and controlled; many of us are concerned that she is using the budget to pressure the board into decisions that have no other analysis, such as eliminating entire programs, entire departments — entire schools — with no individual analysis of the implications/consequences of those decisions.”
The Board of Education, as this article went to press, was set to vote on all Priority 1 items at its Feb. 13 meeting.