Could not authenticate you.followers
When Fairfax High’s instrumental music director Ray Vizcarra came to the school five years ago, there were no music classes, marching band or orchestra. Since then, Vizcarra has built the school’s music program from the ground up into one of the most acclaimed programs in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), attracting approximately 100 students and twice winning the LAUSD’s All-City Band Championship.
Now, the district’s budget deficit has put Fairfax High School’s music program in jeopardy. Vizcarra is one of eight teachers at the high school who received lay-off notices in March, and although the district will not announce until June exactly how many layoffs will occur, the uncertainty has taken its toll on Vizcarra and the other teachers, as well as students who participate in the music program.
“My principal, Ed Zubiate, had warned me about the layoffs, but it didn’t resonate with me until I walked back into my room and I realized that when I came here, the room was empty.” Vizcarra said. “So much has changed in the lives of these kids who have gone through the program. I thought about what would happen to the kids, and it brought tears to my eyes.”
Vizcarra’s plight illustrates a problem throughout the district, which is facing a $408 million budget deficit for the 2011-12 school year. The district sent out Reduction in Force (RIF) notices to 7,302 teachers, counselors, school administrators, nurses, librarians and classified staff members in March, and is currently negotiating with unions representing the employees to reduce the number of people who will be laid off. The final decision must be made by June 30, when state law requires that the school district approve its final budget for the upcoming year. The LAUSD is hoping the unions will agree to have their members take 12 furlough days over the next year to help balance the budget.
Zubiate said the prospect of layoffs has dramatically affected morale at the school, which is already struggling from previous cuts over the past couple of years. Zubiate said the average projected student-to-teacher ratio next year will be 42-to-one, and he added that some classes now have as many as 50 students in one classroom.
“It’s a disaster, that’s the way I feel. There is talk that it will only get worse for at least a year,” Zubiate said. “Now they are looking at twelve furlough days, which is about a six or seven percent cut in pay. The teachers who have been RIF’ed are all young, and got into teaching because they are passionate about it. I brought each one of them into my office to tell them about the layoff notices because I didn’t want them to find out in a letter. That was one of the toughest weeks I have had on this job.”
Zubiate outlined the problems to parents and others who gathered for an open house at the high school on May 5. While students danced and played music in the school’s quad, and staffed booths promoting the school’s programs, Zubiate wondered how he was going to continue to make ends meet in the future. The principal said one of the reductions that is going forward is the cancellation of summer school.
“For ninth graders who do poorly in their first semester, summer school was a way for them to get back on track,” Zubiate said. “If they don’t get back on track, they are pretty much done as sophomores. I won’t know what that is going to do to us until next year.”
The principal also said that the potential layoffs have caused morale to plunge among teachers and staff.
“I think everybody is upset,” Zubiate added. “When something happens to one person, they all internalize it.”
Although the budget problems have cast a dark shadow at Fairfax High School, Zubiate said he is not going to sit back and wait for things to get worse to take action. He has turned to the school’s development office and other partners in the community to fill some of the gaps. Joyce Kleifield, development director at Fairfax High School, has been working full-time since last September to build relationships with the community to provide funding and other support for programs. Kleifield’s salary is subsidized by the Greenway Arts Alliance, a non-profit organization that operates the Melrose Trading Post and raises funding for arts programs at the school. Kleifield is joined in the development office by two other staff members who work to bring alumni into the school to host programs, and to indentify grant funding that may be available.
Kleifield said the goal is to raise $1 million a year for the school, which could offset layoffs and the cancellation of programs. Examples of the partnerships that have already occurred include alumni Rick and Jethren Phillips providing approximately $5,000 to pay for the Safe Schools Ambassadors anti-bullying program, and a partnership with the City of West Hollywood to use the school’s auditorium for special events, such as a concert by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Los Angeles.
“The role of the development office is to provide resources to the school in as many forms as we can get,” Kleifield said. “We have contacted alumni, we have been fundraising and identifying other resources. We are working hard to build relationships. We want to operate more like a university or a private school.”
Kleifield added that there is already a plan to hold a fundraising concert at a future date to raise funds to keep Vizcarra at the school if he is laid off. In the meantime, Vizcarra said he is moving forward with making plans for the upcoming school year, and will deal with being laid off when he hears the final decision.
“I am still planning ahead and hoping it is not going to happen,” Vizcarra added. “I am thinking about what competitions we are going to enter next year. I have heard from students, ‘if you’re not here next year, I’m quitting.’ It could be the demise of the program, but I hope it doesn’t happen. We didn’t have a music program here for twenty years until I came here, and in five years we have become the music program that people use as an example. The school district should take that into consideration.”
This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.
Leave a Reply