ON CAMPUS: Local control comes with consequences

Posted by Nan Austin on April 29, 2013 

The expected return to local control in school spending brings some headaches as well as some high points.

Today Modesto City Schools will consider how it will spend its money.

It wants to do some long delayed maintenance, replace the artificial turf at Downey High stadium and hold out a big chunk to cover potential health costs in 2014.

Money for new carpets and replacing school buses used to be prescribed by the state and immune to salary negotiations. It was in dozens of separate bookkeeping pockets -- inefficient, but unarguable.

Now, it's all in the same pot. Now, it's arguable.

Employees want more money after years of cuts, furloughs and layoffs. They see the high numbers going to repairs, reserves, computers and fake grass.

Modesto support staff, like bus drivers, secretaries and janitors, reacted with outrage to district demands they continue pay cuts started in 2008-09 when schools first faced recessionary cuts. Those negotiations are headed for mediation.

Teachers' temporary salary cuts expire next year.

As negotiations at every district move forward when money troubles ease, something to watch is how many erased positions return, versus higher salaries for those who remain.

Will class sizes go down? Will there be more adults again on school grounds to talk to an upset student or watch the spots where bullies lurk? Will art and music programs come back?

Another pressure on those now available funds will be for wonderful ideas. Whole industries are ramping up to help districts go green, buy computers for students and train teachers for common core.

Tonight Modesto will also consider a contract for $65,000 for an energy audit to assess how best to spend anticipated Proposition 39 dollars. But energy audits are available for free from Modesto Irrigation District, spokeswoman Melissa Williams said. Companies that sell products often charge for that service, she said, but MID provides an analysis to businesses, schools and homes at no charge.

All this means that for the first time in decades, board members are on the hook to make consequential, and potentially unpopular, financial decisions.

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