The Lodi Unified School District board stopped short of eliminating 28 classified positions Tuesday — many of which are part-time interpreters — and instead sent the recommendation back to district staff for a clearer financial picture of what these cuts represent.
In separate action, trustees did vote to cut three preschool teaching positions. All but one are currently vacant.
The proposed cuts were in response to anticipated federal funding reductions to specific programs.
"If funding changes at some point, this may change," Assistant Superintendent Michael McKilligan said as a preface to any board discussion.
The ultimate decisions came on the same night trustees were expected to provide final input for next school year's budget in a separate agenda item. A vote is expected on June 21.
On Tuesday, more than two dozen interpreters, the diverse families they serve and even the president of El Concilio spoke at the meeting. Some hinted that eliminating these positions would revert the district back to decades ago when few non-white employees were hired.
"It would be a drastic step in the wrong direction," teacher Amy Ramsower said, adding that she would have been unable to do her job without the help of interpreters, who have talked to parents the teacher was not able to communicate with due to a language barrier.
They are invaluable at back-to-school nights and other community outreach events, she added.
Trustee Ken Davis, too, believes the interpreter positions are necessary.
"This is a group that serves our largest population in the district," he said, shifting his comments to hiring equity. "Every person on this list is a person of color. ... We really have to look at equity with who we retain in this district. It always seems there are specific groups that bear the brunt of cuts."
More than one speaker pointed to other money in the district budget that could be used to fund the positions, which also include computer lab assistants and secretaries.
The bilingual community liaisons have various duties, including translating notes to be sent home or calling parents from school sites if there is an emergency. Some have even helped obtain medication and provide transportation for non-English-speaking families.
"How is the parent going to be informed what is going on in their school?" one parent said through an interpreter.
Another translator said it is disheartening that the group's 2-percent pay cut and furlough days accepted last year resulted in layoffs this year.
"It's riddled with the chance of lawsuits and grievances," local classified union representative Dan Morris said of the resolution before the board.
In the end and following close to two hours of discussion, trustees directed staff to bring back a series of resolutions that separate each position proposed for elimination by funding source. Trustee Ruth Davis also wants to see a list of what site programs may not be funded if trustees give direction to retain positions previously on the chopping block.
But Superintendent Cathy Nichols-Washer cautioned future decisions.
"Something else the school site has budgeted for might not get paid for," she said. "We (could) be bringing you a resolution with different positions. There's only so much money to go around."
Contact reporter Jennifer Bonnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.