EUSD trustees vote to budget money for yoga


To the dismay of nearly 75 protestors, who lined the street outside of the Encinitas Union School District office board room before the June 21 meeting, trustees voted to approve a 2016-17 budget that includes more than $400,000 set aside for the Enrichment Teacher Program — which will include at least one day of yoga per week.

Public comment was split before the board vote, which went 4-1 with Gregg Sonkon opposed.

The controversial yoga program had previously been funded by the nonprofit Sonima Foundation, which last year provided $800,000 for Health and Wellness in the district’s elementary schools. When that money was no longer available, district officials led by Superintendent Tim Baird felt the program’s benefits made it worth continuing with funding from the district. Those advantages, they say, are not just for the participating children but also in the fact that regular classroom teachers use the time to collaborate, improving the students’ overall educational experience.

Opponents of the program feel money can be better spent on support for core subjects.

“The mistake that some people make is that this is about yoga. It’s not, it’s about how they are going to pay for it,” said Bruce Stirling, a parent of a fifth-grader at Flora Vista and one of the many red-clad protestors who gathered to hold signs prior to the meeting.

“The parents (in Encinitas) raise a tremendous amount of money to supplement the curriculum. We pay for science and Phys. Ed. and math specialists and the like. We provide millions of dollars to get that done because they say they don’t have any money. And yet they are able to find $800,000 for yoga.”

An original plan to replace the $800,000 of yoga funding with district money was modified after discussion at the school board meetings on May 24 and June 7. The updated plan, which is in the 2016-17 budget approved by the board on the June 21, has $416,000 set aside for 13 full-time District Enrichment Teachers (folding over the previous Health and Wellness instructors into these positions) with most of the leftover, $346,000, being used to pay for 40 percent of the salaries of 27 site-specific Enrichment Teachers.

Each of the district schools will then shoulder the remaining 60 percent of the site-specific positions, which provide instruction in art, science, engineering, coding, music, world languages, physical education, or other enrichment programing.

The agreement is for this to be a one-year pilot program for the next school year, after which it can be re-evaluated and outside funding could also be secured.

Several parents, and even fourth-grader Georgia Sporrer, went to the mic during public comment to stand up for the benefits of yoga itself and the new program as a whole.

Rebecca Conley, president of the Paul Ecke Central PTA, thanked the board for listening to parent concerns and felt that those concerns were met in the new proposal.

“Unfortunately, it appears that some people are using inflammatory rhetoric to put politics before the needs and education of our children,” Conley said. “What’s good for our kids is simple. It is balanced education that includes a well-rounded health and wellness program and additional funding for our school-based enrichment programs. The budget proposal in front of (the board of June 21) does this in a fiscal responsible way.

“This (new version of the proposal) goes farther and also relives a huge financial burden currently borne by parents through school-site PTAs. Thank you for hearing our pleas for fiscal relief and partially funding enrichment programs previously exclusively funded by the PTAs.”

Before voting to adopt the budget that included this program, board members amended the language to specify that they were approving the Enrichment Teacher Program and that would include yoga at least once a week, but it would be up to the individual school sites to determine how the remainder of that time was spent.

Board member Carol Skiljan stressed that parents need to understand that the Enrichment Program is not coming at the cost of core subjects, which are being taught capably by the classroom teachers, especially when they have time to collaborate and learn from each other’s strengths.

“The reason why we are calling this enrichment is because it is the augmentation of what’s happening in the classroom. We have very highly skilled teachers in this school district,” Skiljan explained. “Frankly, I think it is insulting to have parents say ‘Oh we need to hire someone to teach science.’ Obviously, we need to do a much better job of helping parents to understand exactly what is going on in the classroom.

“Part of what we are trying to achieve here is the ability to have our teachers collaborate for part of the school day. To decide on the curriculum and learn from each other.”

Opponents of putting this money into the 2016-17 budget, however, were not appeased by the changes made to the plan, nor by the board’s amendment that sites can choose to limit the yoga to once a week.

“It’s a step it the right direction, but the principle of the matter is, yoga shouldn’t be funded at all until core areas are paid for,” said Anne-Katherine Pingree, the parent of a child from El Camino Creek. “To ask parents to raise money to pay for a science teacher or a P.E. teacher — at our school, we have to pay for a P.E. teacher — it’s not right for us to have to pay for that while they have money for yoga, even one penny. All of that money should go to core academics and then, if there is money left over, let the schools decide.”