Denair schools prep for possible state takeover

naustin@modbee.comSeptember 4, 2013 

DN

Denair High is part of the Denair Unified School District, now one of less than five districts in California with a “triple-B” rating.

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  • 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 trustees will hold a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Friday to receive a formal notice that moves the district one step closer to a state takeover.

"When our budget is disapproved by the county, that triggers the beginnings of state receivership," Interim Superintendent Walt Hanline said. Without a deal made with its teachers, he said, there was no choice. "There's so many unknowns here. The county's in a position, they have to do what they have to do."

It is the first time in county history that any district has come this close to having a state overseer taking the reins. If it happens, the state appointee would assume operational control, with the ability to overrule the school board and renegotiate contracts for up to 20 years. Only nine districts statewide have required state intervention since 1990, and all but two have returned to local control.

The board will hear a report rejecting the Denair budget from Don Gatti, deputy superintendent of the Stanislaus County Office of Education. Under the current spending plan, the report says, the district will not meet its operating needs this year or in years to come.

On top of current expenses, Denair owes the county $1.3 million it borrowed to finish out 2012-13.

Adding to the district's troubles, early enrollment came in 50 students lower than expected, Hanline said. Only 927 students were in Denair district schools as of Aug. 28, meaning less revenue than expected.

Even if disputed teacher layoffs stand, the district cannot meet its obligations without salary concessions from everyone, Hanline said. The district and Denair Unified Teachers Association negotiators met with a mediator Aug. 22, but made no progress, he said. The next mediation session is scheduled for Oct. 21.

The union did not return messages left Wednesday afternoon. But in past meetings, teachers have said that retirements and resignations have saved more than enough to cover what the district needs to cut.

Hanline said the district needs to cut $934,000 on top of those savings. "The numbers are the numbers," he said.

In August, trustees cut the equivalent of 14.78 full-time teaching jobs, affecting roughly two dozen teachers, despite an opinion by a state administrative hearing that concluded the cuts would not be legal. Hanline said the teachers union has filed an action in Superior Court to halt the layoffs.

Remaining teachers are being asked to take an 11 percent salary cut, retroactive to July 1, which would match the cut taken by Denair administrators with teaching credentials. Hanline and administrator Mary Jones work for the district on per diem contracts and did not take a cut.

District support staff, including bus drivers, secretaries and aides, reached a three-year deal with the district that was approved Aug. 21. The California School Employees Association Denair chapter signed on for a 7.75 percent salary cut, starting July 1, with a cost of living raise in the third year.

The board will hold its regular meeting Sept. 12.

Denair resisted layoffs through the recession, despite losing more than a quarter of its enrollment. Where Modesto City Schools squeeze up to 40 students in a high school class, Denair High's average class size fell to 16 last year. It spent more than it received, running out of reserves and into the red in the last school year.

The Denair Unified School District Board will meet at 6:30 p.m. Friday in the district board room, 3460 Lester Road, Denair. Find exhibits and agenda at http://bit.ly/DenairUnified.

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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