Denair school district needs to chop $1M to avoid state takeover, says leader

naustin@modbee.comDecember 7, 2012 

— The Denair Unified School District is sending a letter home with students today, laying out its financial problems and saying the district is taking steps to solve them.

In the letter, Superintendent Ed Parraz say the district needs to cut $350,000 to finish the year, and he will recommend $710,000 worth of unspecified layoffs for the 2013-14 school year.

“Hard decisions are difficult to make. Hard decisions were not made to avert the predicament we now face,” Parraz says in the letter. “Now our district is at that place where reluctance in making the hard decisions can no longer be afforded.”

State cuts reduced Denair’s per child base revenue from $7,095 to $5,515, while operating costs for schools rose, he notes. Attendance revenue pays for basic classroom costs, from teachers to electric bills, and falling enrollment has added to Denair's difficulties.

The district serves 30 percent fewer children in its regular schools than it did five years ago, losing some to Turlock high schools and others to its own charter schools. An administrative change to fold Denair Academic Avenues charter school into the regular district, perhaps calling it a magnet school, is being considered.

"Through it all, budget adjustments have been made and keeping jobs has been a priority," the letter says.

Denair has avoided layoffs and now has far more teachers, administrators and support staff per student than most other districts. Its high school, with 340 students, has an average class size of 16, compared to an average of 39 to 40 in Modesto's seven public high schools. Seven administrators manage the 951-child district, the same number in place at Delhi Unified, which has 2,700 students.

Employees will be included in building the budget plan, the letter says. "Because of the severe cuts that have to be made, successful negotiations are more critical than ever before," it states, urging everyone to remember that "students must come first."

The letter closes with a pledge to work with an outside fiscal adviser and the Stanislaus County Office of Education to balance the budget, acknowledging that Denair's situation "is not ideal," but all its schools will remain open.

"It is unfortunate that we are becoming experts in cutting education. None of us got into this profession with any thought of someday having to dismantle a system to which we committed our life's work," Parraz writes.

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