Modesto City Schools board takes heat over funding choices

naustin@modbee.comJune 16, 2014 

DN Mo City Schl 1

(DEBBIE NODA/dnoda@modbee.com) - Modesto City Schools Administration building at 426 Locust Street, March 25, 2010.

Community activists took Modesto City Schools to task for what they said was tepid support of mentoring and dual-language programs, both issues raised by what is and what is not funded under next year’s more open budgeting process.

District board members unanimously passed the spending plan as it was, however, and the 2014-15 budget to implement it. Both are blueprints by categories. While speakers advocated for targeted spending, no votes were taken on specific programs.

District leaders spent months developing the spending plan, officially known as the Local Control Accountability Plan, meeting with community and school groups, said Superintendent Pam Able.

“It’s a first step. There’s a lot still to do,” said board member Steve Grenbeaux.

Dozens of parents came to the meeting to protest the consolidation of the district’s dual-language program at Bret Harte Elementary, closing the Fairview Elementary portion over two years. Fairview students can be bused to Bret Harte or enter a traditional intensive English program.

Parent Filipe Alvarez said the dual-language program was created after a decade of missed academic targets for English learners because research showed it was far more successful. “You take away a very successful program and give us back something that is not working,” Alvarez said.

But board President Cindy Marks said the consolidation was necessary. “It’s the decision we’re going to make because we don’t want to lose this program. We want it to be successful,” Marks said.

Advocates for Justice, a nonprofit formed to mentor black students and lower disproportionately high suspension rates, is asking for funding for two staff members, field trips and events in 2014-15, though it did not list an amount.

Organizer Jacq Wilson said the district failed to provide a coordinator’s help as promised, creating a need for its own staff. The group has led field trips and service activities for students, as well as mentoring.

Seventh-grader Jaimare Limbrick stood with him. The boy was suspended but took the independent study time to raise his grades from a D-minus average to A’s. “He said it was because somebody cared about him,” Wilson said.

“I think mentorship is so key to providing youth with equal opportunities in life,” said board member Jordan Dickson. “Challenges and everything aside, the fact that you care enough to take your time for kids is really inspiring.”

That said, he added, “We do have work to do to make this program work.” Dickson pledged to work with the nonprofit. “Let’s all as a team agree on what success is so we can be as efficient with every dollar as possible,” he said.

The district’s existing efforts for low-income communities were presented by Jorge Perez, district director of parent and community involvement. Services for families include training, health fairs and health insurance enrollment events. “We need to work side by side with parents,” Perez said.

The district also has dramatically lowered its suspension and expulsion rates, said board member Ruben Villalobos. In 2009-10, the district expelled 274 students. This year, there were 22, he said. “That’s a 90 percent decline.”

Board items on special-education programs for the next year, administrative raises and changes in grading were discussed and decided after deadline.

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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