Denair Unified ready to vote on budget, Common Core, layoffs

naustin@modbee.comJune 24, 2014 

— Trustees of the Denair Unified School District will take up a packed agenda Thursday, finishing a transformative year with wrap-up votes on the district’s 2014-15 budget, its community-advised spending plan, Common Core implementation and teacher layoffs.

The layoffs item formalizes cuts of eight teachers that already have been voted on. The original layoffs approved in February, many for one or two periods, added up to 19 full-time teaching positions and one administrator. Teachers also took an 8 percent pay cut.

After retirements, elimination of vacant positions and other adjustments, the district now will lay off the equivalent of eight full-time teachers, Superintendent Aaron Rosander said Tuesday.

The district has built its budget assuming it will continue to lose some students. It had 51 fewer kids in class this year, which will cut its funding by $390,000 for 2014-15. Though Denair will get nearly $100 more under the state’s new funding formula for each of its 851 students, declining enrollment means it has less to spend on school basics next year, Rosander said.

The $8.2 million budget the board will vote on for 2014-15 anticipates back-filling its emptied reserves by about $300,000, still not quite enough to pull it out of the hole. Its operating reserve will be short $127,000 next year at this time, the budget predicts, but will turn the fiscal corner and have a $374,000 cushion in place by June 2016.

Denair failed to make cuts as state funding and its enrollment plummeted during the Great Recession. Over the past two years, the Stanislaus County Office of Education loaned the district $2.4 million to prevent a state takeover based on insolvency.

“They went through a really tough period. It was tough on the district and tough on the community,” said Don Gatti, the deputy county superintendent. “From our perspective, it’s gratifying to see that they’ve taken the necessary steps. They’ve got a wonderful plan in place that puts them into the black in the near future.”

The district’s administration has had a complete makeover, with Rosander taking the helm in February and Chief Business Officer Linda Covello arriving April 1. The district still will have an outside fiscal adviser, as well, until its finances are on solid ground, a requirement for districts that fail to meet state reserve minimums.

For the coming year, Sara Michelena will be the director of elementary education, coming to Denair after serving as assistant principal of Cunningham Elementary in Turlock this year and in Patterson Unified for 13 years before that. She will oversee Denair Elementary and the adjacent Denair Academic Avenues charter school.

Charter school Principal Carol Hammond will return to the classroom as an elementary teacher, Rosander said.

Christine Skinner was hired as associate director of secondary education, a position that functions as vice principal for Denair High School and Denair Middle School. Skinner has worked since 2002 at Etna High School in Siskiyou County, moving up from English teacher to assistant principal.

Skinner’s primary responsibilities will be student discipline and campus safety, said high school and middle school Principal Aaron Delworth.

Michelena and Skinner are expected to begin work by mid-July.

Two clerical staffers already are in place. Nisa Cox joined the business office as account clerk. Cindy Ayala is an administrative assistant in the superintendent’s office.

The board will be asked to give final approval Thursday of two other reports: plans for spending more than $300,000 allocated by the state for Common Core needs and a priorities list for spending based on community input.

To implement Common Core teaching, the district expects to spend $98,000 on outside firms and consultants, $50,000 for teacher training days, $82,000 on technology and about $70,000 on materials.

Its community-centered plan lists no additional funding but lays out Common Core implementation goals, technology for students, and plans to add career classes and Spanish courses. Stipends for drama, choir and band teachers are in the works.

The board will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at 3460 Lester Road. Find the agenda at http://bit.ly/DenairUnified. Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at (209) 578-2339.

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