Thursday, July 29, 2021


Animosity continues over Williams Unified layoffs


The fight between Williams Unified School District staff and Superintendent Edgar Lampkin, and the battle over the district’s finances, continued last week when union representatives asked the school board to rescind their earlier decision to eliminate about a dozen paraeducators and three teachers to balance next year’s budget.

Dale Martini, who represents the Williams Teachers Association, also asked the school board not to renew District Superintendent Edgar Lampkin’s contract next year, citing a unanimous “no confidence” vote by union members.

Martini said Williams Unified has spent more money on attorneys and consultants than ever before in history under Lampkin’s leadership, with staff and students paying the price.

She also accused Lampkin of mistreating district employees.

“The eternal politics, the chaos, the intimidation, the disrespect, and the obsession of control needs to stop,” Martini said. “It’s time to put our students, staff, and community first in making decisions about the leadership of our school district. We say enough.”

The school board sat quietly during the period of public comment, as rescinding the layoffs was not a matter posted on the agenda, a requirement of the Ralph M. Brown Act, which governs the rules of open meetings of a government body.

The school board also took no action on the union’s request to dismiss Lampkin, following his closed session performance evaluation that followed the March 8 regular meeting.

The school district and unions have basically been at odds over the Local Control Funding Formula, after the state cautioned school districts not to use money that is suppose to be spent on increasing and improving programs and services for low-income children and English learners on pay raises for teachers.

The school board, however, averted a teacher’s strike in November with a settlement that amounted to about a 2.6 percent increase for teachers, but then turned around and eliminated all paraeducators at the elementary school and the music and physical education teachers to compensate for the deficit.

Unions for the two groups, however, continue to argue that the cuts were drastic and unnecessary. Under the funding formula proposed by Gov. Jerry Brown in January, all school districts will receive about $4,600 more per student in base funding in 2018-2019 above 2011-2012 levels (the height of the state’s budget crisis), and Williams Unified stands to receive substantial supplemental funding because English learner and low-income students make up more than 80 percent of the district’s students.

The combined extra money produces about 40 percent funding above the base level per student, union officials predict.

However, Mechele Coombs, Williams Unified’s finance director, said during the district second interim budget report last Thursday, that even with the governor’s 2018-2019 proposed budget factored in, the district will still be in deficit spending next year, with no surplus in sight until 2020.

Coombs said the governor would issue a revised budget in May, and changes could still be made when the budget is adopted later this year.

“We won’t know until the budget is actually enacted,” she said.

Meghan Miller, who represents classified employees, said the California School Employees Association completed its own evaluation of Williams Unified’s finances, and determined the district has a “very healthy and sustainable budget,” and has far fewer certificated staff than recommended by the California Education Code, leaving sufficient funding for other purposes.

Miller said that while the district had declining enrollment from 2015 to 2017, there was no decline this year and no projected decrease anticipated for 2018-2019.

Miller pleaded with the school board to consider the district’s healthy reserves, which is more than recommended by the state. She also asked them to look at CSEA funding projections and not just the “doom and gloom” projections of others, and she asked them to understand that there is value and purpose to having paraeducators in the classroom.

“In conversations with Dr. Lampkin, I was told not to look at these eliminations as people but as positions in a business,” Miller told the school board. “Unfortunately, that is not a possibility for me, nor should it be for you. The fact of the matter is that these are people. (They are) people that the families in this community depend on for support for their children – not only in academics, but behavior and emotional support. The paraeducators in this district are more than just babysitters on the playground. They work with children on a daily basis with manners, respect, patience and love; things that money cannot buy, and other character-building skills that they will need to be thriving, contributing members of society.” ■

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