Denair looks hard at future

Schools chief: Bad but not hopeless

naustin@modbee.comMay 9, 2013 

EC Denair01

ED CRISOSTOMO/ecrisostomo@modbee.com School day ends as students walk to their bus at Denair Elementary school on Wednesday afternoon (12-05-12) in Modesto CA.

ED CRISOSTOMO — Modesto Bee

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    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
    E-mail: naustin@modbee.com

The Denair Unified School District board on Thursday took a hard look at further cuts it must make to turn itself around.

"It's bad," Interim Superintendent Walt Hanline said before the meeting, but not hopeless with further salary cuts and layoffs. "If we do what we need to do, we will be restoring salaries, to some extent, in the 2014-15 school year," he said. "If not, the state will take over the district."

Fiscal adviser Terri Ryland presented two scenarios to the board. On its current path, it ends this year roughly $600,000 in the red, with unsustainable deficits going forward. In the second scenario, cuts of an additional $550,000 next year, in addition to $800,000 already made, would put the district back in black in two years. But if the district has not gotten those concessions in salaries by June 30, its budget will not be approved and a state takeover will proceed, she said.

If the concessions happen, Ryland said, she and Hanline will be leaving and the district will be able to move forward. "We have to suck it up and make the cuts," Hanline said.

Ryland said more will be known today when Gov. Jerry Brown's revised budget will be announced. The local control formula will not give much to Denair because it already gets a higher-than-average amount per child, she said. The district also continues to lose attendance, with 30 fewer students predicted next year.

Adding to Denair costs are higher special-education costs and an expected $48,000 loss from sequestration. Ryland expects the district will spend $700,000 more than it makes this year, about $360,000 more than it has. "We're digging ourselves out of such a deep hole," Ryland said.

The board voted unanimously Thursday to seek short-term cash financing from the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Ryland estimated the district will need $700,000 to cover its payroll and expenses through the end of this year, down from $1.25 million last year.

Trustees discussed negotiations in a closed-door session but did not announce any progress toward deals with its teachers or support staff for next year.

In what could appear a step backward, the board on Thursday reversed itself on layoffs of support staff approved earlier. But Hanline said before the meeting that the earlier choices "made no sense to me." He said that soon-to-be-announced, more selective cuts to support staff will save more money for the district next year.

Trustees heard comments from former board member Ray Prock Sr., who urged them to take town input in selecting the next superintendent. "You need to be more open with the public when you can. ... We may not like it, but at least we'll know where you're coming from," he said. Teachers, he added, continued to get seniority raises, "getting your checks as the hole has been dug."

In other action, the board:

• By a unanimous vote rescinded the partial layoff notices to teachers Halla Bernard, William Douglas, Patricia Guillen, Robert Wagner, Curtis Wooten and an unnamed additional teacher, roughly two full-time positions in total. A state administrative law judge who heard complaints from laid-off teachers ruled against the district in those cases.

• Applauded three retiring longtime teachers. The announcement of additional retirements eases the financial impact of the rescinded layoffs.

• Approved a restructuring of management positions, consolidating "the 15 different hats everyone wears," Hanline said. "After we're done with this gut-wrenching, bite-the-bullet phase, I'd like for us to get competitive (in salaries). I think there's wide acceptance that we're not."

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

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