School parents struggle to keep staff

April 23, 2003 11:00 pm


When a school only has five employees, a cutback of two would hit and likely hurt student education.

This was the message a passionate group of Pinecrest Elementary School parents tried to impress upon Twain Harte-Long Barn Unified School District trustees at last night's board meeting.

As trustees scramble to make cuts in the face of the state's projected $34.8 billion budget shortfall for the next fiscal year, they considered laying off Pinecrest School secretary Betty Jespersen and Cindy Ripley, the school's aide-cafeteria cook-janitor.

Without these two women, the school would not function, parents and community members said.

"We're not cutting a secretary and a cafeteria cook," said teacher Tammi Panos. "We're cutting 14 other positions at the same time."

With only three teachers, one secretary and one aide, each Pinecrest employee fills multiple positions. The teachers are responsible for three grades each, taught simultaneously.

Ripley cooks, cleans and works one-on-one with students — attention they wouldn't get without her.

And many students often mistake Jespersen for the principal.

"I cannot show you all the things Betty Jespersen does in a day," said teacher Sylvia Terry. "She makes our job easy for us."

Panos said she already has trouble fitting everything into her curriculum.

"It's a marathon every day without having to answer phones, cook lunch and clean toilets," she said.

Parents showed strong support for Ripley and Jespersen as well, citing the extra hours the two work to help teachers with the enormous job of teaching three grades.

"Don't touch the people that are here," parent Sharon Gianelli implored. "You know (the parents) will do anything to help."

Other audience members offered to study the district's budget, looking for other places to cut. Trustees welcomed and thanked the audience for the offer.

"We have a very involved, unique, proactive community," said Trustee Chris Garnin. "I invite you to dissect the budget along with us."

But other parents said there are no notches left in the Pinecrest budget belt.

"This school would not run without these women," Gianelli said.

Trustees said they would continue studying the budget before making a decision.