Raises, layoffs, and closures dominate school board meeting
At the Plumas Unified School District board meeting May 11, Superintendent Glenn Harris made two key presentations on the school facilities evaluation process and the school closure plan process. A closure plan would be dependent on the results of the evaluation.
In his backup material, Harris indicated a school facilities evaluation is conducted to protect facility integrity, reduce costs and improve cost effectiveness, monitor district trends and facility impacts on program needs now and in the future, as well as to improve the district’s financial stability and develop a master plan.
Harris also indicated a committee of district officials, employee groups, school site officials and community members would consider long-range enrollment projections, as well as the enrollment history, going back 10 years, and current enrollment figures.
Other considerations include the county’s General Plan, the housing market, census data, facility status, fiscal impacts and the status of school funding.
The committee is to begin its work immediately and to provide recommendations to the superintendent of schools and the board by January or February 2011.
If the facilities committee recommends closures, the board will appoint a closure committee to follow the state’s strictly prescribed procedures.
Although relying on much of the basic information previously gathered from the facilities evaluation, the state-mandated district advisory committee would include seven to 11 members representative of all district stakeholders as well as individuals with expertise in environmental impact, legal contracts, building codes and land use planning.
The state requires the board to consider the impact of closures on community schools, current capacity and future school growth, transportations costs and considerations as well as special programs and individual school academic performance ranking.
In closing his presentation, Harris outlined the next steps, which would include establishing a district advisory committee by reconvening the District Facilities Master Plan Committee to explore school closure and to set a timeline for meetings, community input and report to the board by April 30, 2011.
At that point, the board would take action on the advisory committee’s recommendations.
Community Advisory Committee
In his time-shortened Superintendent’s Report, Harris told the board the grade seven-12 education committee has formed and its next meeting would be May 16.
In a follow-up telephone conversation, Harris said the 16-member committee includes representatives of each community from service or community clubs, students, faculty and each high school principal. Harris facilitates the committee meetings and Terry Oestreich, director of alternative education, is also involved.
Harris said the purpose of the committee is to assist in development of the district’s curriculum for grades seven through 12.
The committee will start the process by identifying expected outcomes for graduating students and how to meet those expectations.
Harris said the task would help sustain school vitality through additional classes to meet requirements for students attending California colleges and university.
He added the district would release money from the general fund to implement the added sections, buying time for the facilities review.
Bruce Williams, assistant superintendent for personnel, reported a tentative agreement in contract negotiations with the Plumas County Teachers Association. The agreement covers the period beginning July 1, 2009 and ends June 30, 2011.
Teachers will receive a 1 percent increase in their current salaries and a 2.9 percent increase per employee for step and column (based on longevity and qualifications) over the previous year.
In addition, teachers will receive a 1 percent increase in statutory benefits such as retirement, workers’ compensation, etc. and a 9.9 percent increase in their district health and welfare plan. Per employee, that translates to a $1,088 increase or 5.8 percent.
The district’s total cost of the increase to salaries and benefits rises from $9.55 million to $9.762 million.
In the first year, the district will pay out an additional $210,345 from its controversial special reserve fund and slightly less in subsequent years. The fund has been reserved for one-time expenses; however, Harris and Business Director Yvonne Bales agreed the cost of the increase would be offset by savings realized from retirements at the upper ends of the pay scale.
The teachers also won concessions from the district regarding performance review procedures.
Layoffs and reductions
As the meeting wound down to action items, the board approved the termination of .17 certificated employees.
Reductions in classified services, such as instructional aides, reading aides, transportation, library and cafeteria services, hit nearly every campus.
Greenville’s board representative Jonathan Kusel abstained from voting on elimination of Title I aides at each elementary school.
Title I addresses funding for schoolwide programs, such as reading, in schools with a student population of at least 40 percent low income.
Bales gave a brief overview of her written report to the board to keep board members informed of the actual revenues and expenses “as compared to the most current approved budget.”
Included in her report was an accounting of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds awarded to the district this school year. Those funds are restricted to particular expenses. Of the monies received, $180,100 was used to partially fund Learning Center teachers as agreed in the 2008 – 09 school year.
Special education received $501,844 in one-time ARRA funds for training, specialized equipment and additional staff costs.
State Fiscal Stabilization Funds, totaling $206,312, available for any “educational purpose” were used to offset revenue losses in the district’s after-school program and avoid a reduction in services.
Greenville High School’s Natural Resources Program received $8,900 previously cut from the program’s funds. The funds were restored at the instigation of then-principal Laura Blesse and supported with presentations from teachers Dan Brown and Laurie Wann and current principal Tori Willits.
Brown and Wann asked for a total of $75,000 for school years 2010 – 11 and 2011 – 12. In response, Harris asked the pair to prioritize program needs for each year.
When the two could not provide a prioritized budget because of the interdependent nature of the program, Willits identified the most critical needs.
The most pressing challenge the program faces is to secure enough funding to become self-sustaining in future years.