In an effort to meet the demands of an ever-shrinking budget, the Hart District is making a dramatic change to how their eighth-graders will promote to high school.
The district has announced the cancellation of junior high promotion ceremonies for all eighth-grade classes in our valley affecting more than 3,500 students.
The move is also part of a new policy that the district is trying to push.
"It's a conceptual thing that were trying to focus on, making high school a six-year experience, focusing on high school graduation," said Pat Willett, spokeswomen for the Hart District.
Principals from all the junior high schools contacted parents yesterday using a ConnectED telephone call explaining their position.
Sabrina Brill, who has a daughter that attends Rio Norte Junior High, says that students there took part in a sit-in this afternoon at the school.
"I'm outraged. This is wrong, and they waited until two months before the ceremony to tell us," said Brill.
To compensate for the loss of the ceremony, many schools will host special activities to celebrate, and officials say the annual trip to Disneyland will still take place.
The Hart District considers the move from junior high to high school a promotion, but many commonly refer to the transition as eighth grade graduation.
The district spends more than $40,000 on the promotion ceremonies, and according to Willett, they take more than a month of planning.
"When we looked at the $40,000 that is a teaching job, another teacher we can keep working," said Jaime Castellanos, Hart District Superintendent. "Not that graduations aren't important, but when we look at peoples livelihoods and putting someone in the unemployment line, as far as I'm concerned you have to keep people at work."
"At a time when we are laying off staff and reducing instructional time, we really need to focus on educating students. That's our job," said Willett. "Anything that takes time or energy away from that focus is counterproductive."
The district has been forced to cut nearly $21 million in spending this year, and has been relying on their reserves to avoid making the full amount of cuts.
"Those reserves are running out," said Willett.
To make up for the additional $15 million the district still needs to cut, they are proposing to continue class size increases to the teachers' union and have sent out 41 layoff notices.
Willett says that they are also looking at early retirement incentives, reduction in pay for teachers, reduction in teaching times from 180 days to 175 days and combining smaller classes.
"We are cutting everything that we can," said Willett.
District officials, projecting that the budget situation will continue to prove difficult, have filed a qualified report with the State. This report notifies the state that the district may not be able to pay its bills in two years.
"If we're able to negotiate these severe cuts that we are proposing to our teachers union, then we may be able to make it. But until all those settlements are negotiated there is no way to guarantee the state that we can pay all our bills two years out," said Willett. "We can pay them this year and next year because we are dipping into our reserves, but we are still deficit spending."