Denair Unified School District tries to move forward

naustin@modbee.comJune 27, 2013 

  • 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

Denair Unified School District took steps Thursday night to get the district moving upward and onward, despite the red ink staining its budget and the absence of deals with its unions.

Sandi Dirkse, mother of three Denair students, told the board she was heartened by the board's direction. "For months, we've been, as a community, embarrassed, upset, angry over the status of our district, and I do believe that's been taken to heart," Dirkse said. "I do believe we're working toward solutions."

The four trustees voted unanimously to set in place a new district strategic plan, raising class sizes and restoring a higher goal for reserves. It was the first meeting without Julian Wren, who resigned earlier this month before moving out of the district.

The strategic plan envisions testing the waters for a Denair parcel tax for additional revenue and pushing for higher test scores, attendance and parent participation.

Interim Superintendent Walt Hanline said the plan lays out priorities for its roughly $10 million budget, "to drive priorities if and when we do cut, which we will be doing some." It will also be a road map for when money returns to education, he said, noting that other districts that made cuts earlier must decide how to spend new revenue.

The top priority is fiscal integrity, Hanline said. In the past few weeks, the district faced "two whoops" that cost it around $200,000, he said, saying only that they were unexpected expenses. Such problems underscore the need for a higher reserve, Hanline said.

Denair Unified trustees restructured salary schedules to better align with duties. Later Thursday night, the board was to vote on cuts up to 11 percent from pre-recession salary levels on all nonunion staff, the same amount being sought from the district's teachers and support staff.

The district has declared an impasse for a fourth time in its negotiations with the Denair Unified Teachers Association, President Barry Cole said.

Cole said the union wants the district to follow procedures for a public airing of its initial bargaining position, which seeks changes in more than half of the contract's provisions, before negotiations begin. The district also has asked teachers to take an 11 percent salary cut from peak 2007-08 salaries, which — without a new contract — return July 1. That cut would amount to up to $8,972 for Denair's highest-paid teachers, who would earn $81,565 at full salary.

Interim Chief Business Official Douglas Crancer said state revenues are far better than last year and, as the local control funding formula is implemented, will improve Denair's fortunes. Revenue estimates from the state budget, signed Thursday, were not yet available to include in the budget the Denair board adopted.

The board was to vote later Thursday night on hiring Mary Jones as interim deputy superintendent following a presentation on the coming common core state standards.

Denair has done some field testing in common core, Jones said, which includes different progression for learning math and more analytical writing. Her duties will include training Denair teachers and involving parents in the transition, Jones said.

"There are as many honors students in India as there are students here, and that's who our students will be competing (for jobs) with. They won't be competing with just other students in Denair," Jones said.

Employers want to see collaborative, creative, effective communicators who can research and analyze information and adapt it well, she said.

Those qualities also describe what Denair trustees will seek in their next superintendent. The board approved with a unanimous vote to advertise for superintendent candidates with those skills, as well as a master's degree and experience as a principal. The application period will close Dec. 6, with interviews Jan. 3-4.

The time line was designed to allow the post-election board to make the decision. Three of the board's five seats are up for election in November.

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

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