Denair hopes rise with deal close, leader hired

naustin@modbee.comJanuary 9, 2014 

DN Denair schools

Comments are seen in the front windows of parked cars at the Denair High Event Center as students arrive for school.

DEBBIE NODA — The Modesto Bee Buy Photo

With news of a new superintendent and state plans to pay more to schools than expected, Denair Unified School District trustees were met with an upbeat crowd Thursday night.

By unanimous vote, trustees confirmed Mariposa County Unified School District Superintendent Aaron Rosander as the next Denair superintendent.

The vote was taken directly after the Pledge of Allegiance, followed by trustees’ return to closed-door talks. Rosander, meeting at the same time with the Mariposa County board, needed the vote before handing in his resignation, administrative assistant Jody Jorge explained to the standing-room-only crowd.

Under the contract, which starts Feb. 1, Rosander will be paid up to $60,535 for the five months remaining in the current school year, if he moves to the district. With a good evaluation and a Denair address, he would earn $133,286 in 2014-15. Total annual cost, with benefits, to the district was estimated at $160,000. Rosander’s first day in his office will be Feb. 10.

Board President Robert Hodges also said the district is confident of an imminent settlement with its teachers.

“We’re very close to a deal. I’m very optimistic,” agreed union President Barry Cole, wearing a wide smile after Denair Unified Teachers Association negotiators met with the board. “Things are starting to move in a positive direction for our schools, for once,” Cole announced to applause.

Negotiators will sit down Jan. 16 to talk over the fact-finding report created by a neutral fiscal expert. While a few details remain, Cole told trustees, “We will abide by everything in the report – everything.”

The board committed months ago to implementing the report’s recommendations. Fiscal adviser Terri Ryland urged trustees to follow through with necessary reductions, which include laying off eight teachers for 2014-15.

“The clock is ticking,” Ryland said, adding the board must act in February. “Right now, it’s all local control. Your fate’s in your hands,” she said.

An infusion of state cash could be Denair’s saving grace. A fiscal crisis caused by district inaction in the face of state budget cuts and declining enrollment in recent years has brought it to the brink of state receivership.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget blueprint, unveiled Thursday, would give $61.6 billion to elementary and secondary schools, an increase of $6.3 billion. Compared with three years ago, that’s more than $2,188 per student in new spending. An additional $3.4 billion would go to schools to make up for unpaid obligations in earlier years, and to the community colleges.

Interim Chief Business Official Doug Cranston said Thursday that no estimate is available for what the state’s announcement could mean in dollars for Denair.

The district ran through the last of its reserves and $258,000 into the red last year, according to a 2012-13 audit presented at the meeting. Without a settlement with its teachers, the district is on track to have a $685,000 deficit by June 30, the audit says, which would usher in state control.

After next week’s negotiating session, recommendations of a fact-finding report will be made public. Unless teachers settle their 2013-14 contract at that point, the board could impose salary cuts and teachers would have the legal right to strike.

The Stanislaus County Office of Education surveyed its rolls of hundreds of substitute teachers this week to find those willing to cross the picket line for $250 a day. The emergency rate is about 21/2 times Denair’s usual rate.

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

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