Armed with a chart, Chip Fenenga speaks to the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Board of Education.
Armed with a chart, Chip Fenenga speaks to the Santa Ynez Valley Union High School Board of Education Monday night about proposed budget cuts that could mean layoffs.  (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Speakers made passionate pleas Monday night to save the football coach, auto shop teacher and other Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District jobs, with many urging the board to pause to fully assess before slashing staff.

During a special meeting, the Board of Education reviewed assorted options and heard from the public but did not make a decision.

The matter returns for possible action at the board’s March 12 meeting, with layoff notices set to be sent by the state’s March 15 deadline for certificated staff.

More than 150 people — students, staff and community members — showed up, with the expected large crowd leading to the decision to relocate the meeting to the school library.

“It’s a tough conversation,” board President Jan Clevenger said near the start of the topic.

In a report prepared for the meeting, Superintendent Scott Cory identified several positions to be eliminated to gain financial savings, with suggestions adding up to $400,000 for the next school year.

But the elimination of a physical education teacher, identified as three-sport coach Josh McClurg, drew a steady stream of speakers calling for the board to save his job. 

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School physical education teacher Josh McClurg receives a hug.

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School physical education teacher Josh McClurg, back to camera, receives one of many hugs from past and former football players, who pleaded to save the coach’s job during Monday’s Board of Education meeting . (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“Top notch organizations like Santa Ynez High School must attract and retain top notch talent or they cannot be top notch,” said Quincy Valle, the football team’s female kicker.

She was among several students sharing the positive influence McClurg has had on them. A former player who lost a friend to suicide recalled McClurg reaching out to offer support

“As taxpayers we should demand to put the students first,” said McClurg, a graduate of the high school. “We are in the people business. Our product is student achievement and preparing them for the real world, something you can’t put a price tag on.”

The crowd applauded McClurg’s speech and one man shouted, “We support you, Josh.”

Ken Gruendyke, a teacher for 36 years and former football coach, praised McClurg for getting the community involved in the high school and its sports programs through the years.

“That’s what Santa Ynez Valley is all about. That’s why we’re so special,” he said. “We ain’t Lompoc. We’re not Santa Maria. We’re not Santa Barbara. This is Santa Ynez High School.

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District Superintendent Scott Cory and board President Jan Clevenger listen to a speaker

Santa Ynez Valley Union High School District Superintendent Scott Cory and board President Jan Clevenger listen to a speaker Monday. In the foreground is physical education teacher Josh McClurg, whose job is on the cutting block. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

“We need to be proud of it, and we need to do whatever it takes to keep our staff intact and keep the kids excited about coming to school here.”

Other speakers called for keeping the automotive program teacher, noting the importance for students planning on attending trade schools instead of college.

Former student Rory Burnett said he benefitted from the program, which served as a stepping stone for his career in the automotive field.

English teacher Melanie Dickey was among those calling for the board to take time before deciding on cuts, suggesting using the district’s healthy reserves fund .

“It’s a great investment to take a small fraction of your savings to buy one year of time to critically think and discover a solution that supports and dignifies the community you serve,” Dickey. “Simply, solving our budget woes with cuts to staff hurts students.”

In his report to the board, Cory said options included ending a policy that has kept class sizes small. Eliminating a Spanish teacher could see classes climb above 40.

He also presented 17 possible classified and certificated positions to eliminate, saving funding with various combinations including cutting the principal position and instead creating a superintendent/principal to save $175,000. 

Ultimately, Cory recommended cutting full-time special education and physical education slots, along with reducing hours for English and science elective slots. 

On the classified staff, the proposal calls for getting rid of the staff services technician and in-house suspension supervisor. Additionally, the registrar’s job would be reduced from a 12-month to 10-month position. 

These actions affecting seven positions would save $405,137, a portion of cutbacks facing the district. 

Cory said the district needed to act immediately to reduce expenditures to avoid facing a more difficult fiscal situation in three years.

Near the end of the meeting, board member Tory Babock said it was evident from Monday’s comments that residents want the board to avoid cutbacks affecting students, faculty and coaches.

Clevenger echoed the comment.

“Keeping theses cuts as far away from the classroom, whatever the class is, is my priority,” Clevenger said. “We are only as good as the students we produce, whether it’s for academics, for athletics, whatever. It’s much more about the whole student.

“It’s been really loud and clear…what the community wishes,” she added. “The community elected us to the board to do the right thing, so we’re going to do some serious soul-searching here, all of us. 

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.