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Santa Clara Unified: Budget Reductions, Canceled Wilcox Speaker

Money is tight for everyone and is only getting tighter. Santa Clara Unified is not immune. New budget reductions are being introduced with more to come. The Board of Trustees meeting on Thursday, March 14 was packed due to community concerns that span across the District, but the cancellation of a controversial speaker got the most attention.

 

The Budget: 2023 – 2024 Second Interim

Starting with some so-so news, Mark Schiel, Deputy Superintendent of Operations and Chief Business Official, showed that property taxes saw a slight increase. It was less of an increase than they’re accustomed to, but with the economy being the way it is, he was grateful there wasn’t a decline instead. However, looking at the multi-year projections, Schiel is worried they’ll see a decrease based on County data.

Some good news is that they saw an increase in revenues, notably due to a class action lawsuit relating to tobacco and vaping. They will be able to use those funds to combat the usage of those substances. The General Fund is also looking better. During the first interim, they foresaw deficit spending of $48 million but they were able to shave $2.4 million off.

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The District is trying to save money, as they have been saying. Santa Clara Unified will be without the one-time funding they got during the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, enrollment declines in the District are an unavoidable reality after losing 900 students since the 2020-2021 fiscal year. In an effort to save an ongoing $6 million starting in the 2024-2025 fiscal year, the District is expecting to reduce certificated personnel by 23 full-time employees (FTEs) — Schiel claims that half of those positions are lost due to declining enrollment and the other half is due to the loss of one-time funds. Additionally, they won’t fill vacant positions for 1 classified FTE and two management FTEs. Schiel added that they will be reducing department budgets and minimizing overtime.

The financial department will continue to investigate more budget reductions to present at the Thursday, May 23 Board meeting. Additionally, they will begin forming a new Budget Advisory Committee.

 

Wilcox Speaker Controversy

Ran Bar-Yoshafat was scheduled to speak at Wilcox High School but the event was canceled due to “security concerns.” Bhawana Mishra, a District parent and philosophy professor at Evergreen Valley College, was disappointed that the speaker wasn’t canceled out of principle.

“Frankly, I’m appalled that Wilcox High School and the Board approved a speaker who has unabashedly called for the killing of Palestinian children,” said Mishra. “and has actively participated in an ongoing genocide that is literally being live-streamed for the entire world to witness.”

Mishra and many other speakers came to unagendized public comment to ask the Board to protect Palestinian students and carefully vet speakers.*

“As a Muslim student, when I first heard of the invitation of Ran Bar-Yoshafat to Wilcox High School I was immediately disturbed by the speaker’s background,” said Yusuf Perwez, a Junior at Wilcox. “He holds prominent political positions and is a commander in Israel’s military, calling from both platforms for war. A war that has killed thousands of our students’ families. And yet nothing compares to the pain that I felt when I read the quotes that Yoshafat had publicly made and that the district had deemed were acceptable to invite on campus…”

Perwez pointed to two quotes from Bar-Yoshafat’s public Facebook page: “Every school mosque, hospital, kindergarten – all – without exception – is a terror camp. There is no exception. There is not even one exception,” and “the revenge for the massacre on us should have been 1,500,000 people. Certainly could solve the demographic problems.”

“The painful part about this was not just the quotes which included slurs that me and my family have heard for years living in America, like ‘terrorist,’” continued Perwez. “but the fact that after parents directly pointed these quotes out to the administration, the response we received in our emails is that ‘we should consider all perspectives.’”

Because the comments were made during unagendized public comment, the Board couldn’t respond, but that didn’t stop Board Member Jodi Muirhead from stepping to the podium. She said she was “not speaking as a Board Member,” but she claimed to be disturbed by “unfair comments” about Bar-Yoshafat and tried to offer context on multiple points. Notably, she asserted that the event was canceled because they heard that pro-Palestine protesters would prevent the speaker from entering the campus. He’s been given that treatment at other events.

“It bothers me that we got kids pitting against kids in our schools,” said Muirhead. “that there is a number of antisemitic things that are going on in our schools.”

 

Literacy Additional Core Materials

The Board was enthusiastic to hear about the new phonics program the Elementary Literacy Workgroup was recommending. They decided on the UFLI Foundations program, developed at the University of Florida Literacy Institute. Implementing UFLI will cost about $98,600.

Board Vice President Bonnie Lieberman, who was also part of the workgroup, said she was excited for them to get started. The Board passed the recommendation unanimously.

 

Other Business

The Board passed a motion to change the scope of the SCUSD independent study program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, independent study was temporarily extended to include TK-8th grade. This year, due to declining enrollment, independent study was only offered to grades 6-12. Now, they want to return to pre-COVID programming and serve students in grades 9-12.

The Agnews Elementary School community came to unagendized public comment to show support for their School Support TOSA Markham Bertron. According to speakers, his role is being reduced to 50% and they are worried about not having a full-time TOSA to help staff, especially with behavior concerns at this still very new “full inclusion school.”

After a few community members asked the Board to review and adopt the Equity and Social Justice framework, Lieberman asked staff to bring the framework back to a Board meeting.

The Santa Clara Unified Board meets next on Thursday, March 28. Meetings are live-streamed on the District’s YouTube page, and agendas are posted on their website.

 

*Editor’s Note: This article seeks to summarize what happened at the School Board meeting but is not exhaustive. This article is not intended to properly cover the war, the decades-long history between Israel and Palestine, or the genocide in Gaza with the care and attention it deserves.

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7 Comments
  1. LA 3 months ago
    Reply

    It’s shameful that your editor’s note doesn’t comment on the hostages in Israel and only seeks to point out the “genocide” in Gaza. Your note did not need to include the last sentence and by doing go, your antisemitic tone was clearly evident.

    • Bb 3 months ago
      Reply

      I am jewish, hate war, some think their views are more important then others. We are all human and anyone in this country who comments or supports war is shall we say barking up the wrong tree. War solves nothing except kill and ruin lives.

  2. BM 3 months ago
    Reply

    Thank you for covering the board meeting and the issue of the speaker at Wilcox. It took a lot of courage for the students to speak up for themselves. All students – Jewish, Muslim, Palestinian, Black, White, trans, disabled, etc. – should feel safe and school and not be subjected to hate speech that calls for their death! Wilcox made the right decision in canceling the speaker (even if for the wrong reasons).

  3. SJL 3 months ago
    Reply

    I wasn’t able to make this board meeting so thank you for recapping it and including relevant links to past meetings. We love the incredible diversity of our school district and are thankful to send our kids where they can feel safe and accepted for who they are. I appreciate our teachers and students who are role modelling what being an upstander is about – Project Cornerstone FTW! I also appreciate the effort to educate our community about the war as it impacts so many families in our district who are grieving the loss of loved ones. We were very shocked to learn that the district administration approved such a speaker despite claiming to have a vetting process in place. A quick Google search is enough to disqualify this individual especially in light of current events. I know several families across the district are worried about what kind of precedent has been set. If this speaker was approved to talk to our children at our schools, who will they approve next?

  4. Robert 3 months ago
    Reply

    This is what your article fails to mention:
    The Palestinian Club had a speaker come earlier to Wilcox, against the advice of many. Their speaker spoke about the conflict in Israel and Gaza, told the students that Israel is a colonist state, and that it only exists because of rich Jews. The speaker also said that believing in the right of Israel to exist is evil.
    The Jewish Club’s speaker was canceled because outside groups were threatening physical violence against the event, attendees, and the Israeli speaker.
    The Palestinian Club was allowed their speaker, the Jewish club wasn’t. The obvious double standard is not surprising. What is surprising is your lack of balanced reporting.

  5. TZ 3 months ago
    Reply

    You are right, Wilcox should protect the students against speakers advocating violence! So why was the Palestinian speaker allowed? Why were Jewish students forced to feel unsafe? Many teachers supported the Palestinian speaker, and applauded because the Israeli speaker was cancelled, due to threats of violence. Why are teachers allowed to show preferences for one group of students over another? This is not okay.

  6. JM 3 months ago
    Reply

    There is an antisemitism crisis in the district – hateful graffiti, vandalism, online bullying of the Jewish club, school newspapers publishing propaganda. Parents need to wake up.

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