Live Oak School District staff, parents and students attend a school board meeting at Live Oak Elementary School on Wednesday. (Jesse Kathan — Santa Cruz Local)

LIVE OAK >> Following an emotional and tense meeting Wednesday night, the Live Oak School Board approved layoff notices for more than two dozen staff members. 

The layoffs are part of a plan to close a $2.9 million gap in the district’s budget and prevent a potential state takeover of the school district. The school district has six schools including a charter school, and about 1,700 students. The district’s budget is $28 million for the fiscal year that started in July. 

The plan outlined during Wednesday’s meeting includes pay cuts for district office staff and fewer layoffs than a plan rejected in February. During Wednesday’s meeting, parents and staff lambasted board members, district office staff and Live Oak School District Superintendent Daisy Morales for what some called fiscal irresponsibility and a lack of transparency.

Live Oak School Board Trustee Jeremy Ray, standing, leaves a school board meeting Wednesday after a tense exchange with an aide who castigated the board for planned layoffs. Ray later rejoined the meeting. From left are Live Oak School District Superintendent Daisy Morales and trustees Kristin Pfotenhauer, Felicita Rasul, Marlize Velasco and Paul Garcia. (Jesse Kathan — Santa Cruz Local)

Cuts approved

The layoff notices approved Wednesday are a combination of two options presented by school district staff. 

Approved cuts include:

  • Seven elementary school teachers.
  • One special education teacher.
  • One director of curriculum and instruction.
  • One psychologist.
  • The equivalent of about four full-time family liaisons. Live Oak School Board Trustee Jeremy Ray said “there is a strong possibility” that the district would receive grants to fund the family liaison positions and rescind those layoffs.
  • A half-time position will replace the full-time position of principal of Ocean Alternative School. The principal of Green Acres Elementary is set to remain full-time.

Trustees could rescind some of those notices if the district receives additional grants or state funding. Some staff in jobs set to be eliminated may fill different positions in the district.

District staff plan to submit the plan to the Santa Cruz County Office of Education for approval.

Layoff notices must be sent by March 15, said Assistant Superintendent of Business Services Hanwool Kim. District leaders can rescind any of those notices until they are finalized May 15.

The approved plan also changes the titles of some district office staff, essentially approving pay cuts for some assistant superintendents and directors. The district office staff cuts are expected to save the school district’s General Fund $257,375  during the fiscal year that starts July 1. 

The plan reverses a 5% pay raise for the superintendent and other top staff approved in February. In the plan approved Wednesday, Morales will not receive a pay cut but will have five furlough days. 

Live Oak School Board President Kristin Pfotenhauer said the salary reductions may lead some staff to resign. She said that finding replacements may be difficult.

Trustees, staff clash

Parents and staff had harsh words for trustees and district office leadership. Many were frustrated with what they said was a confusing plan. 

Lauren Pomrantz, a first grade teacher at Del Mar Elementary School and president of the Live Oak Elementary Teachers Association, said surveys distributed to teachers on the proposed layoffs were confusing and difficult to fill out. 

“We’re a bit concerned that when we are hearing that our input is helping build the plans, that really what is being said is that the input from inaccurate surveys, and also from our presentations to you all in these meetings, is what’s informing the plan,” Pomrantz said.

“I’m not generally stupid, but I felt really stupid trying to figure this out,” said Ocean Alternative teacher Deb Bell. “If we’re not understanding what the proposal is, we’re not able to give our input.” 

Tensions heightened when a parent and board member traded barbs. “Nobody can answer any questions. It seems like not true communication, not true collaboration,” the parent said. “It’s offensive.”

“Then get the state law changed,” Ray interjected, referring to the Brown Act, which governs how local government meetings are run. 

Ray briefly left the meeting after Emily Claridge, a Green Acres Elementary aide, called the proposed cuts “unethical and pathetic” and Ray’s response to the parent “disgusting.”  

The audience’s mood towards the board members softened as the meeting wore on. When Ray returned to the meeting about half an hour later, many people in the audience stood and applauded. Ray later apologized for the outburst. 

“It’s just hard for this to occur and to know that no matter what we do, we disappoint a lot of people and a lot of kids.”

Attendees directed much of their ire towards Morales, the school district superintendent. In February, the district teacher’s union announced a vote of no confidence for Morales and said she led the board into fiscal irresponsibility. In an online petition started this week, parents asked for a formal investigation into her conduct and “disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.”

The petition also asked for a community-led fiscal oversight committee, which staff said they plan to create.

Morales said she didn’t foresee the vote of no confidence, “because we have been communicating monthly with (union) membership and try to respond to all of the issues coming up.”

“I really want to get together and see where it went wrong,” Morales said during the meeting.

More than two dozen staff, parents and students spoke out against proposed layoffs at a Live Oak School Board meeting Wednesday. (Jesse Kathan – Santa Cruz Local)

Transparency concerns

Many parents and staff said learning about the district’s financial situation and stabilization plan was difficult and confusing. Wednesday’s actions included elements of two plans presented at Wednesday’s meeting.

Some documents were hard to find, some parents said. That is doubly true for Spanish-speaking parents, said parent Yadira Flores.

Spanish-speaking attendees are provided headsets with live translation at board meetings. But that translation is sometimes inaccurate, Flores said in an interview. The district website has board meeting agendas in Spanish, but some documents are available only in English. The online petition circulated by parents asks that all documents be provided in Spanish.

Flores sat on an hiring committee that considered Morales for superintendent. She said she hoped that a bilingual leader like Morales would communicate directly with Spanish-speaking parents. “But now she’s not using that voice,” Flores said.

Questions or comments? Email [email protected]. Santa Cruz Local is supported by members, major donors, sponsors and grants for the general support of our newsroom. Our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support. Learn more about Santa Cruz Local and how we are funded.

Learn about membership
Santa Cruz Local’s news is free. We believe that high-quality local news is crucial to democracy. We depend on locals like you to make a meaningful contribution so everyone can access our news.
Learn about membership
Reporter / California Local News Fellow

Jesse Kathan is a staff reporter for Santa Cruz Local through the California Local News Fellowship. They hold a master's degree in science communications from UC Santa Cruz.