Hart district to determine mascot change financials 

Hart High School principal Jason d'Autremont announces the the change of the Hart High School mascot to the Hawks in the Hart High School auditorium in Newhall on Tuesday, 031924. Dan Watson/The Signal
Hart High School principal Jason d'Autremont announces the the change of the Hart High School mascot to the Hawks in the Hart High School auditorium in Newhall on Tuesday, 031924. Dan Watson/The Signal

Gym floors, scoreboard, other parts of campus need to be changed; governing board approves HDTA contract, salary increases

Officials with the William S. Hart Union High School District have been tasked with figuring out how much it will cost to make changes to the Hart High School campus once the school’s mascot change goes into effect. 

The governing board voted in July 2021 to remove “Indians” as the mascot of Hart High, citing a need to move away from a race-based symbol that the school has been associated with since Jan. 10, 1946. The board decided to make this change no later than 2025. 

Earlier this year, Hart students and staff voted to make “Hawks” the new mascot. 

The governing board also took action Wednesday to approve the new Hart District Teachers Association collective bargaining agreement, which includes salary increases and one-time payments. Those are set to go into effect retroactive to July 1, 2023. 

Mascot discussion 

Board member Joe Messina called for an itemized list to be presented to the governing board at a future meeting detailing exactly how much money needs to be set aside. Ralph Peschek, the district’s assistant superintendent of business services, said there has been some money allocated for this purpose based on estimates and previous expenditures for similar projects. 

This came after HDTA President John Minkus called out the district earlier in the meeting for handing out layoff notices to teachers and classified employees after many were hired in the last few years. 

“I think we stop all of this until we get a budget and dollar amount on what we’ve spent so we know what we’re getting ourselves into, because we’re being asked by the union to watch our dollars,” Messina said. 

Board member Erin Wilson said that would be a “fair request.” 

According to a February 2021 GV Wire article, Fresno Unified School District officials estimated that it would cost more than $400,000 to make the necessary changes to the Fresno High School campus and associated apparel. That district’s governing board voted in December 2020 to keep the school’s “Warriors” nickname but replace the logo of a Native American. 

Some of the changes that will need to be made to remove “Indians” across the Hart High campus, according to Hart Principal Jason d’Autremont, include: 

  • New gym floors and scoreboard. 
  • Painting across the campus. 
  • Team uniforms. 
  • School apparel. 
  • Logos and branding. 

Some other changes that may not necessarily have monetary costs include cheers for cheerleaders and website addresses for sports teams and other clubs and organizations. 

Those changes were laid out in a presentation that d’Autremont made to the board on Wednesday outlining why the decision to change the mascot was initially presented to the board and the steps that have been taken since then. 

In 2020, d’Autremont said he was approached by three recent graduates regarding a petition with more than 24,000 signatures asking the school to change its mascot. After that, d’Autremont said he met with members of the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians, at both their office in San Fernando and the campus of Hart High. 

Multiple people in the crowd on Wednesday took offense to that, saying that group does not represent the local people in the Santa Clarita Valley with Tataviam blood. Messina said he met with a group of them, and he learned that they were unaware that this change was being discussed. 

The board took up the topic in a study session in February 2021, followed by a community forum that April that saw 155 total responses, 88 for a change and 67 wanting none. 

The board then discussed the topic that May before the deciding vote was conducted in July. 

It remains to be seen if the board will take up the topic once again, but if the course is to remain, Messina said he would like to see the district find more and better ways to honor the native people of the Santa Clarita Valley. That was a sentiment that some members of the crowd emphasized, saying the district should be focused on educating the students, not erasing part of the valley’s history. 

Part of that educating, Messina said, is doing what the board promised in 2021, namely having a mural and cultural center commissioned to honor Native Americans. The mural was unveiled last year, depicting a nature scene with a grass field, flowers, a hawk, a bear, mountains and a river. The cultural center has yet to be constructed. 

“If you can’t bring (the mascot) back, how about we find a way to truly honor them,” Messina said. “Let’s redo the mural. Let’s get the cultural center. We’re so far ahead of what we said we were going to do. There’s no real reference to the Tataviams. At this point, it looks like we’re on track to wipe them out.” 

HDTA contract 

After months of negotiations, teachers within the Hart district received 2% salary increases and 2% one-time payments as part of the new HDTA collective bargaining agreement. 

In total, that will cost the district roughly an additional $5.4 million. The salary is set to come out of the unrestricted general fund with contributions from categorical funding where applicable, while the one-time payments are set to be funded through grant funding. 

This changes the multi-year budget projection for the district. Peschek estimates that the district will have $30 million unassigned in its unrestricted general fund after this school year, followed by $22.7 after next year and $23 million after the 2025-26 school year. 

The grant funding for one-time payments was a hot topic on Wednesday, with some members of the crowd, including Minkus, wondering how the Arts, Music and Instructional Materials block grant can be used for that purpose. 

Peschek said that specific grant is allowed to be used for things such as retirement and health care cost increases, as well as operational costs. He noted that it is different from Proposition 28, approved by California voters in 2022, which required the state to establish an ongoing program supporting arts instruction in schools starting this school year. 

Employees in the district not represented by a union, namely administrators and administrative assistants, received the same salary increases and one-time payments as the HDTA. Superintendent Mike Kuhlman, not in attendance on Wednesday, declined to be included in the compensatory adjustments. Kuhlman is leaving the district at the end of this year to become superintendent of the  El Dorado Union High School District, near Sacramento.

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