At its regular meeting Wednesday, Oct. 27, the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District (GJUESD) Board of Trustees was presented assessment test score results, directed Superintendent Lois Yount to draft a letter to county and state leaders, approved various grant application submissions and approved a new Chief Business Official (CBO).
Yount presented trustees with a report regarding the financial impact to the district when nearly 35% of its students and 15% of its staff were absent on Monday, Oct. 4 as part of a statewide protest against the COVID-19 school children vaccination mandate recently announced by Governor Gavin Newsom.
According to Yount, the district lost nearly $80,000 due to the unexcused absences. Among other things, schools receive their funding based on their daily attendance numbers. That $80,000 is roughly one tenured teacher’s total compensation package (salary and benefits).
But beyond the financial impact, Yount told those attending that, in the long run, it’s the students who “miss out.”
“I completely understand parents wanting to voice their opinion,” Yount said at the meeting. “I completely understand parents wanting to go to the Capitol. I’m a parent as well. The only thing I would like to reiterate about student attendance is that students miss out. It’s the students that miss when they’re not in school, and I think our students have missed more than enough school related to COVID.”
Yount went on to say that the funding loss does not affect the state, but the local school district.
After Yount’s report, Board Chair Tom Silva opened public comment.
Yount read seven letters submitted for public comment, most in favor of the mandated vaccine.
After those letters were read, parents, guardians and family members attending the meeting took turns addressing the board.
Of the 75 people in attendance, nearly 20 spoke to the board. Three speaking in person also spoke in support of the mandated vaccine; however, most made an impassioned plea for the board members to stand with them in their fight to retain parental rights.
After nearly an hour of public comment, Trustee Traci Skinner started the board discussion, asking if staff could provide parents and community members with contact information for county and state leaders.
“I think one of the things that I really heard a lot of was, you know, wanting us to fight with them, and I know there’s two sides, so what can we do to give information for what they can do to share their views with the people that actually make the decisions,” Skinner said. “Because one thing that I’ve learned is, as much as I would like to make a decision up here, I really don’t have that ability. I have the ability to stand up and guide the community to what they can do. Is there something that we can put out?”
Trustee Wes Cagle made it clear that he did not want to be telling parents whether or not they should vaccinate their kids.
“I don’t want nothing to do with their (parents) decision on if they vaccinate their kids or not,” Cagle said. “That’s not my business. So is there? Is there something that we can do to put that in a letter? Send it to our government leaders up north? Let them know that like, hey, Galt’s not down for this anymore. We need to do something.”
Trustee Grace Malson agreed with Skinner and Cagle.
“I don’t have anything else to add support; Traci and Wes have said it, because I agree,” Malson said. “This is a parent’s decision and we need to let up north know.”
Yount also agreed.
“I agree as superintendent, as a parent myself,” Yount said.
Getting a consensus from the board, Silva gave direction for staff to draft a letter to be sent to county and state elected officials.
“We’ll have it sent to the elected officials in Sacramento and let them know how we feel about this idea of a mandate,” Silva said.
Silva thanked parents for attending the protest in Sacramento earlier that month and taking their fight to those elected officials.
“We do appreciate that,” Silva said. “We don’t appreciate you taking your kids out of school that day, we spoke to that issue, but we do appreciate that you take the time to go to Sacramento and let them know, because they do need to hear from you.”
Skinner added that she felt that the message from parents was more a reflection on parental rights.
“I don’t think a lot of what I heard, it’s not an anti-vax, it’s more of a parental choice,” Skinner said of those addressing the board. “I think if we can focus on that, it’s about a parental choice. It’s not about anti-vax or pro-vax. That’s something else.”
“I think most parents, in terms of vaccination, we probably look at it the same way, that it’s not the question of the vaccination itself. It’s the fact that they don’t feel that they have been prepared with enough information to make an informed decision to have informed consent,” Silva said. “My personal challenge with that is, is that you haven’t done a good enough job to convince everybody that it’s a good idea to get vaccinated, and your only fallback is to order it to make it a mandate, then it’s kind of a failure of leadership. So I’m not okay with that.”
Malson also agreed she was uncomfortable with being told as a parent what she should and should not do.
“You guys are taking all my words, my thoughts, because once parental rights are starting to be taken away … I don’t want anyone to tell me what I can or can’t do for what’s best for my child. Whether it be a vaccination, whether it be not, whether it be anything, and that’s really what this is about, what we need to focus on,” Malson said.
Director of Curriculum Claudia Del Toro-Anguiano reported that 41% of the district students have scored at or above the 60th percentile in reading and 33% in math in recent assessment testing.
The breakdown across the grade levels achieving that 60th percentile ranges from 29% of seventh graders and 49% of fifth graders in reading. In math, the scores range from 19% of seventh grade and 39% of second grade.
Wanting to bring a little perspective to those numbers, Del Toro-Anguiano presented what those same student groups scored last spring, after spending the majority of the school year in distance learning, attending class in-person for just five weeks.
Overall, in reading 34% of district students met the 60th percentile mark in the spring as opposed to the 41% tested this fall. Math showed a similar trend with 27% making the mark in the spring and 33% this fall.
Comparing the same student groups from the two assessment tests, significant changes can be seen. For instance, in the spring reading assessment, only 28% of the then second graders met the 60th percentile benchmark; however, 42% of those same students met the benchmark in this fall’s assessments. All other student groups, except those now in seventh grade, saw improvements in both reading and math. The now seventh graders saw a drop in assessments in both reading and math.
Del Toro-Angiano told board members that it is difficult to determine why the overall boost in scores between the two assessments due to a myriad of possible influences.
Several board members indicated that students being in the classroom seemed an obvious possibility.
Board trustees welcomed Nicole Lorenz as the district’s new CBO, a position that Yount held before being promoted to superintendent earlier this year.
Lorenz has spent the past 17 years working for the San Joaquin County Office of Education and has experience with Local Control Formula Funding entitlements, multi-year projections, audit functions and governmental accounting standards.
Lorenz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration with a concentration in accounting.
Trustees approved a three year contract with Lorenz, which includes a $141,656 salary, 22 vacation days, 12 sick days, $100 a month cell phone allowance and health benefits.
Lorenz’ first day was Monday, Nov. 1.
Trustees approved submission of over $2.5 million worth of grant applications. Most grants center around outdoor activity opportunities for students.
Retired teacher John Durant, who led a partnership between the elementary school district and the Cosumnes River Preserve, continues to keep the two entities connected.
These recent grant applications are for the Outdoor Equity Grants Program, and will help fund Lake Canyon Outdoor Explorers, Marengo Ranch Outdoor Explorers, Valley Oaks Stinger Outdoor Learning Opportunities, and McCaffrey Outdoor Recreation and Exploration Program.