Denair school board approves budget, spending plan

naustin@modbee.comJune 26, 2014 

At a congenial meeting Thursday night, the Denair Unified trustees unanimously passed a budget and community-advised spending plan, along with a list of motions to implement both.

The decision brought to a close a rough year that saw the district forced to make over its administration and cut staff and salaries to avoid a state takeover.

A three-year overview of district finances showed Denair will end this fiscal year a grim $646,529 in the red, but with contracts in place to reduce that to $173,700 in one year and show a reserve of $327,500 by July 2016.

“What’s very encouraging, if you look at 2015-16 and 2016-17, they’re in black. We’re getting closer and closer to being liquid, being solvent. So, good news,” said Superintendent Aaron Rosander.

After two years of strong savings, however, the district will need to trim expenses in two years if its enrollment continues to drop, said Chief Business Officer Linda Covello.

For 2014-15, the district will get $390,000 less because of a 51-student drop in enrollment this year compared with last year. The loss dwarfed gains made under the state’s new funding formula that added about $100 per student to basic attendance funding.

The district goals and spending plan, laid out after extensive community and employee meetings, passed without a single audience comment.

Officially called the Local Control and Accountability Plan, principally speaks to implementing Common Core, expanding technology for students, planning more career courses and keeping the arts.

The plan will guide the budget process year round and provide measures to evaluate student gains, said Covello, laying out a list of financial report deadlines.

“All these things revolve around our living document of what our district story is,” Covello summed up.

Even the item formalizing the earlier layoffs of eight teachers passed unanimously and without a word from the Denair Unified Teachers Association.

Every layoff is difficult, Rosander said, “Almost every person here, however, has a new job, which makes it a little less painful.”

Despite its packed agenda, the meeting ended half an hour after it began. It was a welcome change after more than a year of long and contentious meetings, said school board President Robert Hodges.

“We want to let parents know that we’re not just in survival mode,” said trustee John Plett after the meeting. “We hit a speed bump the past couple of years, but students still can get a quality education here.”

“Even though the budget is lean, nothing has been taken away. We still do music. We still do languages. We still do ag,” said trustee Kathi Dunham-Filson.

Denair Unified came close to a state takeover this spring after years of deficit spending drained the last of its reserves. Some $2.4 million in loans from the Stanislaus County Office of Education kept the district afloat. Layoffs, retirements and about 8 percent in salary cuts brought its spending back in line.

Rosander took the helm in February and Covello started in April. Sara Michelena will be the director of elementary education, overseeing Denair Elementary and the adjacent Denair Academic Avenues charter school.

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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