I’m Stacey Montalto, the incumbent candidate for Yosemite Unified School District Area 4 (covering Bass Lake to Route 41, North of Road 426). You can read my candidate statement at www.facebook.com/smontalto4yusd, but today I want to address critical issues facing our District. My opponent Steven Myer recently sent a mass email campaign, highlighting his four major concerns and urging a vote for change in Yosemite USD Board leadership. While I agree with three of his four concerns, I feel that the current YUSD Board, Administration, Teachers and Staff are united and will be successful in addressing these challenges. Mr. Myers’ fourth concern (curriculum/sex education) is not within the purview of a School Board member’s role, which is to hire the Superintendent and oversee District Policy. Here is an overview and my position on each of these four critical issues:
- Distance Learning and Reopening the Schools: We all agree, distance learning has been one of the hardest things schools across the country have ever had to do, starting with the immediate closures when Covid-19 hit last spring and continuing on through months of uncertainty as the medical and public health communities learned as much as possible about the virus’s impact on individuals and communities. Under the leadership of Superintendent Billington, in consultation with Madera County Health, and with exceptional support from district administrators, teachers, staff, families and students, YUSD relaunched its distance learning programs this fall. Teachers agreed to instruct from their classrooms using new laptops and big-screen TVs to see their students, all students were equipped with Chromebooks and wireless access, and online tools and curriculum (including the full Houghton Mifflin curriculum rolled out district wide over the past two years) were provided to support synchronous and asynchronous learning.
As County Health regulations have allowed, we have brought small cohorts of special needs students back to campus. Two weeks ago, the District filed a Waiver Application to allow students in grades TK through 6 to return to campus, and approved a detailed School Reopening Plan supported by formal agreements (MOUs) with both labor groups (YUTA and CSEA) outlining the working conditions and procedures that will ensure the safety of our teachers, staff, students, families and the community at large. We are excited that the County approved the Waiver and we will start welcoming our Kindergarten classes back to campus next week, followed weekly by students in grades 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6. Families will have the option to return to campus or continue remote learning as each grade returns. The School Reopening Plan can be found in the COVID-19 (Corona Virus) Information Page of the District Website at: https://www.yosemiteusd.com/files/user/230/file/YUSD%20Reopening%20Plan%20v_%2010_16_2020.pdf
- Curriculum That Focuses on Causes and Agendas: The main focus of Mr. Myers’ concern, as I understand it, is the Sex Education curriculum provided to students in grades 7-12 in accordance with the requirements of the 2016 California Healthy Youth Act. The screenshot below provides an overview of these mandated requirements and optional guidance provided by the 2019 California Health Education Curriculum Framework. By law, families are permitted to “opt out” of student participation in comprehensive sex education; there have been several Facebook posts calling for changing this policy to require parents to “opt in” instead of “opt out” but that change would have to happen at the level of California State law, not school board policy. The choice of health/sex education curriculum IS determined at the school district level, and both Yosemite USD and Bass Lake JUEUSD have selected the Positive Prevention Plus curriculum for grades 7-12. Parents can find detailed information about the curriculum here: https://www.positivepreventionplus.com/resources/for-parents.
During an Oakhurst Democratic Club candidate forum, I believe my opponent also referenced causes such as global warming and social justice as being inappropriate for educational curriculum. I believe that providing the opportunities to explore science-based environmental trends and human rights-based social issues are critical to enabling our youth to become global citizens, and support our professional educators in presenting these issues in grade-appropriate curriculum.
- Dropping Attendance and Enrollment: Yosemite High School’s Average Daily Attendance (ADA, which is the basis for State funding) and enrollment dropped significantly after Minarets High and Minarets Charter High School opened in 2009, offering an high school alternative for families who live in nearby YLP/Coarsegold or prefer Minarets’ online/project-based instruction. In recent years, YHS’s enrollment has declined 8%, from a high of 690 in 2016-2017 to a low of 631 in 2019-2020, while District enrollment has declined 11% from 1726 to 1528 over that same time period. In both cases, the more than 50% of the enrollment decline occurred in one year, as the District dealt with discovery of and recovery from the administrative and fiscal crisis of 2017-2018. Enrollment continues to decline as some families opt for home-schooling and others leave the area altogether due to job changes or personal situations; interdistrict transfers are allowed and with the exception of 2017-18 have been generally balanced coming in/going out of YUSD.
So what has YUSD done to address the enrollment decline? Under the leadership of Superintendent Glen Billington, we have focused on improving educational instruction, with the implementation of the first new curriculum in 10 years; the choice to use HCM’s subscription model saved the District thousands of dollars while providing materials in both hard copy and online – a fortunate choice given the current remote instruction environment! We have emphasized and provided resources to support Social Emotional Learning, including Multi-Tiered Systems of Support to address individual student needs and, when necessary, disciplinary issues. Despite the staffing reductions necessary to ‘right-size’ the District for financial stability, we have maintained the educational and extracurricular programs that makes YHS a superior option – this includes the International Baccalaureate Program, established CTE pathways in Ag Mechanics/Welding, Auto Mechanics, Floral Design, developing CTE pathways in Culinary and Vet Medicine, courses in Art/Music/Drama, a full roster of competitive girls and boys sports, and clubs activities including championship Academic Decathlon, Destination Imagination, and Mock Trial Teams. At the elementary school level, we have reestablished the Music program under James Mierkey and continue to offer a wide range of electives and inter-district sports. YUSD’s John Muir Homeschool Program for grades K-8 has expanded to support families who wanted that option during Covid-19 remote instruction, and the YHS Alternative and Adult Education programs continue to support students who seek or need instruction outside of the standard high school programs. And over these past six months, we have worked hand-in-hand with our teachers, staff, labor groups, and families to address the challenges of distance learning – and are now building on that collaboration to ensure a safe return to classroom instruction when conditions allow. It has been a tough three years, from fiscal disaster to recovery to Covid, but I am so happy to have been part of the YUSD family, working with such an amazing group of people at every level. Once we get past the Covid quarantine, I believe we need to get the word out about YUSD’s superior educational and extracurricular offerings in order to sustain and increase enrollment for the future.
- A Looming Debt in a Few Years that Needs to be Addressed Now: For years now, per-student funding has not grown at the same rate as the expense of educating our children, particularly when mandated costs for special education and pension contributions are included. This year, the Governor’s budget retains flat funding levels from last year (no Cost of Living Allowance increases) and defers monthly payments for 3-9 months, making cash flow (covering monthly paychecks) especially challenging. And unfortunately, State funding projections for the next two years remain flat despite projected expense increases, particularly in pension fund contribution levels.
What is YUSD doing to address the continuing funding challenges? With expert leadership from YUSD administration, we have been able to manage expenses to preserve the required reserves through this year and next year, but are facing a significant deficit in 2021-2022. The Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee – reinstated by Superintendent Billington in response to calls for stakeholder participation and transparency – meets monthly to address the challenges of constantly evolving funding projections. This Committee, including representatives from the Board (Anne Flanagan and myself), administration, teachers, staff, and parents, has initiated discussions of potential near-term expense reductions, understanding that moderate reductions now will enable us to avoid significant cuts in year three. The Superintendent’s Budget Advisory Committee meetings are open to the public (see the link on the left side of the yosemiteusd.org home page), but my opponent has not been in attendance.
If you live in YUSD Area 4, I hope you will support me with your vote. But please know that I serve families from all areas of our District – please reach out to me at email@example.com if you have questions or concerns,
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