DENAIR — Some straight talk from interim Superintendent Walt Hanline won praise from community members Tuesday night, who said they want better communication from school board members, too.
"We have not had this much dialogue in a very long time," Judy Kindle said during a discussion about the Denair district's charter school.
Denair Unified's desperate financial situation came to light in the fall, when overly optimistic enrollment projections failed to materialize and it became clear the district did not have the funds to survive the year. Since then, the board laid off staff, cut salaries and fired the longtime superintendent.
The district has not settled negotiations with its teachers and support staff for next year. It faces a goal to cut a combined $1.5 million out of this year's and the 2013-14 budgets.
Monica Crabtree took issue with developing district objectives behind closed doors, saying transparency would go a long way toward restoring trust in the board. "If we could see your thought process instead of just voting 5-0 on everything," she said.
The board voted 4-0 on everything Tuesday night, with trustee Carolyn Brown absent because of a family illness. In an agenda of largely procedural matters, the board voted to give Hanline the power to sign checks, kept the district's charter school intact and hired a second legal firm with expertise in personnel matters and negotiations.
The contract sets $225 an hour as the fee for lawyer Roman Munoz, whose expertise Hanline said would save the district money. He said a rough guess at legal costs for actions taken in the last year would be $25,000.
Discussion centered on the decision to keep the district's charter elementary school, Denair Academic Avenues, nicknamed D2A, as a charter. Hanline said the move was to allow out-of-district students to continue to attend without the paperwork and permissions needed otherwise.
But a D2A district magnet school also will go forward, he said, with district and charter students sitting side by side in the classroom. The move is legal, he said, but a bit of an attendance headache.
The arts-enriched charter teaches Spanish to its students and keeps them longer days. While district enrollment has dropped, the charter school is full. Yet it is losing money this year, which Hanline said he will explore, calling it an issue of equity.
Hanline released a plan of board training sessions and personnel reviews to get the district running more smoothly. First up, training for board members on May 19. Assessing principals and teacher assignments will come later, as will regular meetings with employees and parents.
The board will meet again May 9, when more is expected to be known about the district's financial condition. Although Hanline indicated that the board will have more money in the coming months, he said before the meeting that the district has not reached an agreement with the Stanislaus County Office of Education for a bridge loan to see it through the end of this fiscal year in June.
"I am not here to have the state take over the district. We must take the necessary steps to restore the fiscal integrity of the district," Hanline said.
See the plan for district reviews and training at www.modbee.com.