Morongo Unified School District To Sack Some Two Dozen Employees

The Morongo Unified School District is contracting its workforce, including, it appears, an unknown number of teachers.
The bloodletting includes the specified layoffs of 13, together with the elimination of 29 currently unfilled posts. The school board made those decisions at its February 13 meeting.
The district entails Condor Elementary School, Friendly Hills Elementary School, Joshua Tree Elementary School, Landers Elementary School, Morongo Valley Elementary School, Oasis Elementary School, Onaga Elementary School, Palm Vista Elementary School, Twentynine Palms Elementary School, Yucca Mesa Elementary School, Yucca Valley Elementary School, LaContenta Middle School, Twentynine Palms Junior High School, Black Rock High School, Twentynine Palms High School and Yucca Valley High School.
Eleven instructional assistants, a campus supervisor and a school office technician are to be handed pink slips. Those positions are at schools throughout the district, according to officials, who did not specify which schools each of the individual employees are working at.
Further, again without being specific, the district is to end its contractual relationship with an unspecified number of certificated employees, meaning teachers, counselors, librarians, media specialists, psychologists, process coordinators, principals, assistant principals and department directors.
The move brought objections and protests from district employees, some of whom emphasized that the district’s schools were in need of more instructors and student support personnel, rather than fewer. In addition, teachers complained, last month the school board signed off on providing Superintendent Patricio Vargas and other top administrators raises.
District employees told the Sentinel they were thrown by the district’s claim that the expiration of additional funding the district received for response to the COVID outbreak more than three years ago had triggered the need for the layoffs. One employee said the district should be solvent, since the epidemic crisis had elapsed and the district had ceased in-class instruction when the pandemic was at its apex two-and-a-half years ago, which reduced school maintenance and other costs at the time. Some federal funding should have been salted away into the district’s reserves, the employee said.
According to the district, the employees and instructors to be laid off were hired on provisional conditions, and they fully understood that their positions were not permanent ones.
The district received $33,730,581 in funding through the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund put in place after the COVID crisis hit, or $3,977.19 per pupil. The district used some of that money to provide make-up instruction and assistance to students who had fallen behind as a consequence of the COVID-19 school closures that began in the spring of 2020 and continued throughout most or all of the 2020-2021 school year.
It is the teachers with less seniority who will be laid off under the traditional “last hired, first fired” policy.
According to Superintendent Vargas, he and the assistant superintendents who were given raises in January have earned and deserve those pay enhancements, particularly when compared to those in comparable positions in nearby districts.
Vargas, who left the Norwalk La Mirada Unified School District as superintendent there to come to Morongo Unified in July 2022, did not specify his own pay grade, which includes a yearly salary of $222,413.44, perquisites and pay-add ons of $6,192, benefits of $73,895.42 for a total annual compensation of $302,500.86. He will see his total compensation jump to $374,496.73
Among his assistant superintendents, according to Vargas, the highest paid is now receiving $189,389 yearly. Pursuant to the raise, that compensation will escalate to $234,464 per year.
The board, consisting of Robert Hamilton, John Cole, Kerri Condley, Christopher Claire and Roberta Meyers, unanimously voted to approve the layoffs.

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