With an apparent successful reopening of elementary and middle schools, the Los Alamitos Unified School District administration had to revert to some quick action to avoid a somewhat surprising walkout by concerned high school teachers.
Teachers, both for and against reopening, laid bare most of their feelings at Tuesday’s board meeting (see related story) and the teacher’s union startled the administration with the notification of a pending work stoppage on Friday.
In an emergency meeting Saturday morning, the school board gave Dr. Pulver the authority and administrative tools he would have needed to bring in substitutes and other measures required to open the high school on time Tuesday, September 29.
The board voted 5-0 on Saturday to pass the 12-page emergency resolution, giving Pulver the authority to begin hiring substitute teachers if necessary. The emergency powers were ultimately not needed.
Apparently, more than 100 teachers met virtually Sunday in their own emergency forum and agreed to report to work on Tuesday.
Despite all of the bruised feelings and hard comments, Pulver had high praise for teachers Wednesday morning. “We’ve been able to meet the concerns of our (high school) teachers and they are here today, ready to welcome our students,” said Pulver.
David Eisenberg, a science teacher who had leveled very pointed concerns at the board on Tuesday during their regular meeting, reportedly said union leaders are now sufficiently convinced that the Pulver administration had “started listening” to what teachers need.
“With 125 teachers, it’s hard because they all have their own sentiments,” the superintendent said, but “we are so pleased to have students and teachers back on campus.”
With the drama out of the way, Los Alamitos High School opened as scheduled, marking the reopening of all schools in the district. “It’s a wonderful feeling to be able to welcome our students back,” said Pulver.
Pulver, who has visited many campuses during the past three weeks as he insisted on a “phased re-opening, with a week between the opening of elementary schools, middle schools and finally the high school.
“It’s quite an accomplishment,” he said. He also credited the hard work of parents who have obviously done their part to get students ready to wear masks and adhere to protocols. “It really makes a difference to see all the kids reconnect.”
The superintendent said he was struck by all of the organizations that went out of their way to make signs, create special dance routines, and the general joy of the students as they returned to the high school.
Pulver said he was especially happy to see teachers utilizing the open spaces created on campus that gave teachers an option for moving out of their classrooms.
“It’s going really well,” said LAUSD board member Marlys Davidson, who was assigned to monitor the opening of Los Alamitos High School. Like Pulver, Davidson reported student government representatives were at each entrance of LAHS “playing music” to welcome students back to campus.
“Teachers are doing their jobs, some are teaching in the shade and that’s great,” she added.
With schools back in session, Pulver said the role now is to meticulously monitor the many health and safety aspects of the reopening plan. “Our plan is nimble and able to react to conditions on the ground,” he said.
Ironically, during Tuesday’s meeting, while Pulver did not mention any of the teachers who spoke up last week by name, he had clearly been listening to their concerns as he listed dozens of changes to the reopening plan.
New concerns brought up later in the meeting have apparently been addressed since then.
“We have said all along that our reopening plan would be very fluid,” said Pulver, noting that they have modified the plan regularly since it was created during the summer.
Nevertheless, at Tuesday’s board meeting, teachers from Los Al High and the two middle schools paraded their complaints at the board’s most recent meeting (see related story).
They questioned the testing plan and expressed little confidence in some of the facilities’ infrastructure, especially the ventilation systems.
Without mentioning specific teachers by name, the superintendent had addressed their concerns during his superintendent’s report.
“We are not the public health experts,” said Pulver, adding that even though current state standards would permit the system to open more fully, “we’ve chosen a very cautious approach.”
State law mandates school districts comply with guidelines issued by the California Department of Public Health, which are administered locally by the Orange County Health Care Agency, he said.
While the OCHCA has super testing sites available for LAUSD employees, Pulver said “staff wanted more, so they could be tested on their own time.”
Accordingly, Pulver announced Tuesday that the district has contracted with Express Urgent Care which has brought testing directly to students and staff. This had been a major concern expressed by teachers.
Moreover, Pulver reported the results from the first round of testing were all negative.
Dr. Joe Fraser will supervise contract tracing when and if a positive test occurs, as he recited the plan for notifications, quarantines, etc., he said.
Regarding air ventilation concerns, Pulver said engineers have inspected every HVAC system and installed the “highest rated filtration” units that the systems were capable to facilitate.
Moreover, Pulver said HEPA (high efficiency particulate absorbing) air purifiers have been purchased “for every classroom.”
The superintendent said his team found the best recommendation from other school districts then purchased a model slightly more powerful than was recommended.
The new devices were expected to be delivered to LAUSD this Friday, said Pulver.
He said air will generally be refreshed twice per hour in most classrooms.
Dr. Nancy Nien, Assistant Superintendent of Business Services reported that the district has been able to lock in lower interest rates for both Measure M and Measure G.
Taxpayers approved both measures to provide physical infrastructure to the district’s campus facilities.
Measure K was passed in 2008, while Measure G was passed in 2018 and provides for an additional $98 million (approximately) in improvements.
With record low interest rates, Nien said the financial team has successfully refinanced both measures, obtaining a 2.57 percent interest rate for Measure K, and a 2.24 percent interest rate for the newer Measure G.
Combined over the cumulative lifespan of the remaining years on each of the 30-year bonds, said Nien, district taxpayers will save approximately $40 million over the life of the bonds.
She said the combined refinancing of Measure K will save $8.5 million and the new interest rates on Measure G will save district taxpayers $29 million.
Pulver thanked Nien saying “you and your team are good stewards of our money.” The superintendent thanked Dr. Nien and her team for demonstrating an ability to save taxpayers significant amounts of money while providing sufficient funding to “finish all of the projects.”