ENCINITAS, Calif. – Encinitas Union School District officials plan to spend $800,000 to continue a controversial yoga program at local elementary schools, and parents are not happy about it.
“As beneficial as yoga might be, we must be wise stewards of these public funds,” parent Anne-Katherine Pingree told board members at a meeting last week. “I strongly believe there are better ways to use this $800,000 than earmarking it all for yoga.”
Pingree was among parents who addressed the school board over a proposal to spend $800,000 to continue the controversial yoga program that started in 2012 with grant funding from the Sonima Foundation. Parents sued the school district to stop the program in 2013, alleging that it incorporated religious Hindu teachings, but the district ultimately prevailed in court when the appeals process was exhausted last year, the Encinitas Advocate reports.
District superintendent Tim Baird, an advisory board member for the Sonima Foundation, learned a few weeks ago that the foundation would no longer fund the program, and asked board members to consider continuing the program by adding the $800,000 a year program to the school budget.
The school board gave tentative approval at a special mid-day meeting April 26 that did not mention the yoga program, but rather a “review and approval of preliminary budget planning priorities,” according to The Coast News.
“I am extremely concerned and I am not alone,” Pingree told the board. “In order for us to get PE, music, and art at some campuses we have to fundraise for it. To me, the district’s priorities are out of whack and are not concurrent with the priorities of parents in the district. No one knew what was happening. There has to be transparency, responsibility and accountability to parents in the district.”
Baird told The Coast News the board’s tentative approval in April was necessary to give yoga instructors layoff notices in the event the board did not want to continue to program.
“The Board tentatively approved the $800,000 because current staff would be impacted if the Board waited until the late June budget adoption,” he wrote in an email.
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The Program was initially funded with a $533,000 grant in 2012, when the Sonima Foundation was known as the Jois Foundation, and it started at five schools. The same year the program expanded to all of the district’s schools, and the Sonima grant grew to $1.4 million in 2013, and officials doubled the weekly classes to twice per week, The Coast News reports.
In total, the Sonima Foundation contributed $4 million in grants toward the program over the last four years, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
Baird told the Advocate he believes the district should continue the yoga program, pointed to surveys and focus groups conducted by the district that shows many like it. A study conducted by the University of San Diego and the school district also showed better student attendance, fewer behavior issues, and better physical health since the district launched the yoga program, he said.
“Frankly, to throw this program away after all these years of development … doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Baird said. “Generally, most parents, students and staff have been very supportive of this program.”
Numerous parents told the media they don’t oppose free yoga, but believe the district should focus on the core of its mission statement in prioritizing funding.
Gregory Robin, a father of two elementary daughters, believes it’s wrong for district officials to ask parents to raise money for science teachers and art programs while they shell out $800,000 on yoga.
“The biggest concern is, it’s essentially stealing from my kids’ education,” said Robin, who started a petition on Change.org to pressure board members to reconsider their position before a final vote expected in June.
“I’m not opposed to yoga if it’s free,” Heidi Loren, mother of two elementary children, told the Union-Tribune. “That was fine. But to pull money from the school is crazy. Eight hundred thousand dollars, seriously? I mean, what in the world?”
Robin pointed out the district’s mission statement stresses mathematics, science and language arts, not yoga.
“In the mission statement it supports those things, but when they don’t have the funds, they ask the parents to pay for science and arts,” he said. “They’re actively taking the stance that yoga is more important than the items in their mission statement, which aren’t funded.”
Parent and school board candidate Leslie Schneider called on board members to pump the brakes on the yoga budget and listen to feedback from parents before taking a final vote.
“You’re telling us that academics is less of a priority than yoga, and I just don’t think that’s the sentiment of parents who pay their tax dollars and entrust our children in you,” she told the board. “I ask you to take a step back, engage with parents and value the feedback we have to offer.”