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Budget cuts and bullying: A conversation with Alhambra Unified's new superintendent

Leadership changed at Alhambra Unified School District this summer. The new superintendent, Alhambra resident Dr. Laura Tellez-Gagliano, arrived with decades of educational experience — nine years in the classroom as a teacher for the Los Angeles Unified School District, and later 17 years as a resource teacher, assistant principal, principal, and assistant superintendent for the Garvey School District. In addition, for nearly a decade she has worked in the AUSD office as an assistant superintendent, before replacing Donna Perez last July.

Tellez-Gagliano recently sat down with Alhambra Source at the district’s main office and answered questions about budget cuts, technology in schools, student safety, and more.

What is your relationship with the teachers at AUSD like?

I was a teacher first and I always tell teachers I’m here to work with them and for them.  I’ve made it very clear that if they need to get a hold of me that I’m here for them.

Did budget cuts foce you to lay off any teachers due to budget cuts in recent years?

We haven’t laid off teachers in maybe three years now. Our K-3 classes are growing but the state allows us to have up to 30 students.  Last year a couple of teachers retired so no one lost their job and we just didn’t replace those teachers.

Have budget cuts affected art and music programs in the district?

Our budget is public; we have not cut anything. Our high schools have their band and art classes. Our elementary schools still have orchestra and music teachers. We want to keep those areas alive — it’s important for kids.

My dad was in high school band, so all my life it was important to me to have music because I know how it impacts people and students.  Any type of involvement students want to have, whether it’s in arts or sports or clubs, is very important. Academics are important, but I think what we want to do is make sure that we have students that are well rounded and can kind of blend everything together.

Why is school starting earlier? Has the school year been cut?

It’s the same amount of days. We’re not shortening, it’s just moved. We start mid-August and we end the week of Memorial Day.

One of the reasons why is because the testing for AP students is early in May, so the earlier we start, the more instructional time students have before the test.

Alhambra’s adult education program was cut in 2010 due to limited resources.  Are there any plans of bringing adult school back?

I’d love to if I can. Adult School served about 2,000 community members and I know it was a very important program. It helped a lot of people. Some of our high school students and senior citizens were in it.

But when all the budget cuts started happening, we had to cut it. We have to prioritize. This school district is here to educate kids K-12. It was a very difficult decision.

Your sallary is $203,500. Why is it so much higher than that of a teacher?

I’m pretty much on the clock 24/7. I have my cell phone on and my computer on all the time. It’s taking on the responsibility of 18,000 students almost 2,000 employees.

I’m a resident of Alhambra, so my taxes are paying for my salary too. Even though I am not an elected official, everything is out on the table. But that’s okay, because we are here to work for this community and they have every right to know where the money’s going.

Where does the money come from and who decides where it’s going?

Public schools get money from taxpayers in the form of bonds. Taxpayers have to agree when money is used for school things, such as construction. The money taxpayers have set for school construction cannot be touched for anything else.

Once the bond is approved, it’s divided up among the schools. Then all the schools have a committee and they prioritize what the school needs.

How is the district integrating technology into education? Are traditional resources such as books and libraries are being replaced?

Now students have iPads and computers, so some of our schools are taking their libraries and sending those books back to the classroom, and going with computer lab instead. Each school has money that comes to them and they have probably made that decision because as much as books and reading are important, you don’t need to have a hard book to read. 

At no point do we want to make it look like books, libraries, and reading are not important — they are the foundation of any academic program.

How is the district making sure students are safe at school?

We want to make sure that we always have a good connection with the Alhambra and Monterey Park police departments.  We also have a program in the district called Gateway to Success. It’s a program that deals with [mental health issues] like bullying and drugs. There are a lot of counselors in that program, and we send them to our schools to help our students.

The district’s anti-bullying campaign is going full force right now, making sure our kids are healthy, not just from what they eat but that they feel good about themselves. That they feel they can trust their friends and go to school with them.  My goal is to make sure that every kid wants to go to school. 

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