State

Layoff exemption urged for Modesto school

After thriving for 34 years as an alternative elementary school, teacher layoffs are putting Modesto's Fremont Open Plan in jeopardy, parents warned Monday night.

About 75 upset parents urged Modesto City Schools trustees to exempt their school from seniority-based teacher layoffs. If trustees continue with staff cuts as planned, parents predicted an enrollment exodus from Fremont Open Plan and the district as a whole.

The alternative school has nine teachers, but two of them are retiring and three others have been told they're being laid off because of budget cuts.

Modesto City Schools is slicing $25 million from its 2010-11 budget because of funding shortfalls. To save money, the district is boosting class sizes and reducing teachers. That includes laying off about 55 elementary school educators, based on seniority.

Because three teachers at Fremont Open Plan have been with the district less than four years, they will be replaced by teachers from other Modesto schools who have more seniority.

That means only four of the school's nine teachers will return in the fall.

"We feel the continuity of our program is in jeopardy," Fremont Open Plan parent Patti Reeder told trustees. She said the magnet school, which requires parent participation and has a unique curriculum, needs teachers with specialized training. "Our teachers are not interchangeable with teachers from other positions in the district."

Jeanne Pollard, who has taught at the school since 1976 and is about to retire, asked trustees to invoke a California Education Code provision designating Fremont Open Plan's teachers as having special training that exempts them from seniority-based layoffs.

If they don't, parent Andrew Bowman warned trustees there will be "unintended consequences."

About 72 of Fremont Open Plan's 210 students transferred in from other school districts, which means Modesto City Schools is collecting more than $360,000 a year for their education from the state.

Many parents at Monday's meeting said they will pull their children out of the school and from the district if their specialized teaching staff is laid off. The district would lose state funding for every student that leaves.

"It's a consequence you have the power to do something about," Bowman told the board. Parents — who addressed trustees during the public presentation portion of Monday's meeting — asked trustees to consider the layoff exemption request at their June 21 meeting.

After making their request, the parents gathered outside to vent their frustrations. They found out last week how the school's staff would be decimated by layoffs, which prompted them to gather 170 signatures on a petition seeking exemptions.

Many of the parents insist they will pull their children from the school unless something is done. Some said they would enroll their youngsters in charter schools elsewhere, and several said they would start home schooling.

They weren't the only community members to share their concerns with trustees Monday night.

Several others urged the board to extend Superintendent Arturo Flores' contract. Trustees have been debating for a month whether Flores should continue as the district's top administrator. His contract expires in one year, and he wants trustees to commit to renewing his employment.

Yamilet Valladolid, who runs the Modesto office of El Concilio Council for the Spanish Speaking, told trustees that Flores is "doing a wonderful job," particularly with increasing parent involvement in the schools. She also praised Flores for implementing a dual-language institute.

Luis Molina, a member of the Stanislaus County Board of Education, endorsed Flores, calling him "a very capable leader."

About a dozen Latino parents from Shackelford Elementary attended the school board meeting in support of the superintendent.

Phil Mastagni, president of Modesto's Acme Construction Co., commended Flores on his efforts overseeing building of the just-finished Gregori High School. Acme built the $140.7 million campus, and Mastagni praised Flores for his guidance on the project.

No decision about Flores' contract was made at the meeting.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jsbranti@modbee.com or 578-2196.

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