School Board Agrees to Cut Back 6 SMUSD Positions

Facing a less than ideal state funding future, the San Marino Unified School District Board of Education approved a recommendation Monday to eliminate six staff positions to reduce expenses next year.
Sixty percent of those cuts are in administrative roles, including the assistant superintendent of instructional services, according to Superintendent Alex Cherniss. Five total employees, one of whom handles two part-time responsibilities, will be affected.
Cherniss said he believed the recommendations will reduce costs while preserving instructional integrity for what is widely considered the state’s top public school district.
“I believe that we’re a small enough district to continue to perform at a high level with this new model,” he said at the school board’s meeting on Feb. 27.
The other eliminated positions are the full-time manager of athletics at San Marino High School, two elementary school teachers, an English language development position and a teacher in a special assignment position.
Gary McGuigan, the current assistant superintendent of instructional services, will retire after this school year, paving the way to eliminate the position. Cherniss said he, his cabinet and the district’s four principals will absorb McGuigan’s duties.
“If you can realize savings through attrition, that’s always a good thing when someone doesn’t lose their job,” Cherniss said.
At the meeting, Cherniss noted that the district’s principals already have taken on substantial responsibilities in curriculum development, professional development and textbook adoption, which he hopes will translate into a smoother delegation of duties.
San Marino High School’s athletic program will be managed by an on-site teacher who will use two of the school day’s periods to handle athletic business, Cherniss said. SMHS previously ran its student athletics in this manner. The current manager will be transferred to a physical education teaching position within the district.
A transitional kindergarten teaching position and a K-5 teaching position also will be eliminated next year. The district office employee managing English language development (who also is the teacher on special assignment) will be transferred to Huntington Middle School to teach English learners.
Cherniss said the elementary teaching cutbacks were selected to accommodate projected enrollment reductions for next year.
The changes are projected to yield SMUSD more than $600,000 in savings, Cherniss said.
“These decisions are not easy,” he added. “I do not take this recommendation lightly nor do I discount the necessity for SMUSD to continue to excel.”
Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources Linda de la Torre noted at the meeting that if English learner enrollment were higher than expected, the district office would be open to re-exploring the English language development cutback.
The school board approved the recommendations while expressing regret that funding issues brought SMUSD to this position.
“Obviously it would be great not to have any resolution like this on the agenda,” said board member Chris Norgaard, “but I think a lot of analysis has gone into this. I don’t think it will have a significant impact on our instructional programs.”
Board member Lisa Link said she hoped the eliminated assistant superintendent position, which she called “critical,” was only a temporary change.
“I am concerned about the reduction in the English learner area,” Link added, “but in asking questions, I don’t think it will affect the quality of the program.”
Board member Nam Jack said Cherniss’ recommendations were a “very, very thoughtful approach” with respect to the district’s instructional staff and the state’s funding shortfalls. Link and Norgaard emphasized that their criticism was not directed at the district office, but toward the state.
“We’re doing the best we can with whatever we have from the state,” Norgaard conceded.

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