Several public commenters on March 16 asked the Galt Joint Union High School District Board of Trustees to reconsider program cuts it approved last month. The commenters focused on the planned elimination of the German program, cuts to Advanced Placement (AP) courses and a reduction in the number of counselors. At the regular meeting, the board agreed to extend an early-retirement incentive, hoping to stave off some teacher layoffs.

Comment on program cuts

Most of the people who spoke during the 20 minutes of public comment advocated for restoring German-language classes or allowing current German students to complete their language requirement. Once the program ends, Spanish will be the only world-language option in the district, which some commenters said would leave Spanish-speaking students without the opportunity to study a non-native language.

“By cutting our programs, we are not just losing a language or saving money, we are cutting their (students’) opportunities. We are telling them that we don’t value global citizens, because this is a language useful beyond our town,” said Galt High School German teacher Maria Sanders.

Sam Yong, a senior at Galt High who has taken German for three years, said the program “has opened my eyes to the bigger opportunities outside of this country,” as well as German culture and food.

“Learning of Germany was an amazing experience, and for that opportunity to be taken away from my underclassmen and beyond is unacceptable,” Yong continued. She asked the trustees to give students a “choice” in their education.

The cuts, made in response to a decline in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic, reduce or combine multiple courses and remove some positions. For example, the plan cuts one full-time counselor position and one full-time administrator position. Besides the German program, the plan eliminates or reduces the Flex program, Senior Seminar, tutorial for AP classes, the yearbook program, AVID, Health and Theater.

Judy Hays-Sanchez, a Liberty Ranch counselor, asked the district not to cut the full-time counselor position. There are currently five full-time counselors in the district and one part-timer.

She said that, among other things, counselors meet with students and parents to go over grades, help with college applications and speak to students who look up words like “suicide” on school computers. She said the cut would “reduce the amount of services we can provide.”

The board closed public comment after 20 minutes. Other counselors told the Herald that they had signed up to comment but were not allowed to because of that action. The 20-minute time limit is laid out in the board’s bylaws; the board is also allowed to extend comment time “in exceptional circumstances when necessary to ensure full opportunity for public input.”

Later in the meeting, some trustees spoke about the impact of falling enrollment on district finances.

“The declining enrollment is financially restricting some of the programs. I mean, you saw it here tonight,” Trustee Dennis Richardson said. “It’s unfortunate, but when you have the number of people that are leaving the way it has. Unfortunately, that’s what we looked at, and we have to.”

Trustee Melissa Neuburger encouraged “everybody to get the correct facts and the right understanding and make sure you’re getting the full picture of everything going on.”

With funding that reflects a smaller number of students, she said, “we are doing our absolute best to keep two full, comprehensive high schools running with as many programs as we possibly can.”

Early-retirement incentive

District staff asked trustees to extend the deadline for an existing early-retirement incentive. They said that with the program cuts, additional faculty members are considering the offer of $2,500 for early notice of retirement.

“It really is in the interest of the district to extend that offer. … That’s just more pink slips that we can rescind,” Superintendent Lisa Pettis said.

Originally, the incentive dropped to $1,250 after Feb. 3, and the final deadline was Feb. 24. The staff proposal extended the deadline to receive $2,500 to March 31, retroactively including those who gave notice during the $1,250 period.

“At the end of the day, if people would like to retire, and it’s an incentive for them to make the choice to retire, and I can save five new teachers or three new teachers or whatever I’ve got to save, that’s what we’re going to do,” Trustee Mark Beck said.

The trustees approved the extension 4-0. Trustee Terry Parker was absent.