Modesto schools board allots reserves to training, repairs and stadium

naustin@modbee.comApril 29, 2013 

    alternate textNan Austin
    Title: Education reporter
    Coverage areas: K-12 education, Yosemite Community College District
    Bio: Nan Austin has been a copy editor and reporter at The Modesto Bee for 24 years. She has an economics degree from CSU Stanislaus and previously worked at the Merced Sun-Star and Turlock Journal.
    Recent stories written by Nan
    On Twitter: @nanaustin

— Modesto City Schools trustees decided Monday night to hold out reserves for teacher training, building repairs and to replace the artificial turf at the Downey High stadium.

The vote was unanimous to put $5 million to maintenance, $4.4 million toward training and technology, and $525,000 for this year's contribution to Downey turf.

Board member Amy Neumann said safety was a top priority, making facility maintenance a must. "A crumbling building is not safe for employees or students," she said.

Also held aside was $5 million for potential health benefit costs as the Affordable Care Act phases in Jan. 1. The amount is an estimate of what the fine would be if the district failed to provide the required health benefits, a worst case scenario, Chief Business Official Julie Chapin said.

A plan to sign a contract with Chevron Energy Solutions for a $65,000 energy audit was pulled without comment. Reached before the meeting, Modesto Irrigation District spokeswoman Melissa Wil-liams said the MID provides similar services for free.

The board voted unanimously to accept a contract with its teachers that will return the school year to 180 days along with three training and meeting days. Modesto Teachers Association members will vote on the pact today.

Negotiations with the district's other union, however, were declared at an impasse last week. The next step is mediation with the California School Employees Association. Some 150 district support staff packed the meeting room to protest the district's insistence on keeping recession-driven salary cuts in place.

Bus driver Ginger Truisdale told board members she'd worked for the district for 24 years without an accident and been recognized for saving a child's life, but even working full time with her lower salary falls under the poverty level. "That's not right," she said.

California School Employees Association state President Allen Clark berated the board for asking support staff to continue cuts even as the district plans for higher funding. "When times were tough, they stepped up," he said.

Also rising to protest were Beyer High parent Sandra Adan-Lundgren and students, upset that drama classes were canceled for next year for lack of participation.

"You're not just taking away a program, you're taking away who we are," said student Samantha Aiden. "It's our life. It's our passion. It's our love."

Community member Jacq Wilson asked the board to work with the NAACP and other groups to lower the number of minority students suspended and expelled, saying statistics show "a staggering racial disparity."

One child can be suspended several times, but the rate of black males being given out-of-school suspensions outpaces the number of students enrolled, Wilson said.

"All the research shows suspending kids doesn't work. It doesn't increase graduation rates. It doesn't deter bad behavior," he said. He advocated training staff and bringing in a restorative justice program. Wilson said he had 25 men ready to participate in a mentorship program for minority youth.

The board heard how a $200,000 grant from the California Endowment and other targeted funds will be used to offer students more solutions and fewer suspensions.

Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at or (209) 578-2339, on Twitter, @NanAustin,

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