New Denair trustees to be sworn in, vote on modifying charters

12/11/2013 7:41 PM

12/11/2013 10:14 PM

Denair Unified School District will swear in three trustees tonight, bringing the five-member board to full strength for the first time since Julian Wren’s resignation in June. Board members will take up revisions to the district’s two charter schools, including a plan to restrict teacher “bumping” when layoffs occur.

Being sworn in are returning member Robert Hodges and new member Sandi Dirkse, for full terms, and Kathi Dunham-Filson for the remainder of Wren’s term. The board will elect officers and set this year’s calendar. The board will be tasked with selecting a superintendent in early January. Interim Superintendent Walt Hanline said 26 people had applied, a “very, very pleasant surprise,” considering the district’s dire financial situation.

Denair Unified does not have the funding to finish this year and is at risk of state takeover. Negotiations with its teachers have stalled and teacher layoffs face a court challenge that could reverse them midyear. Hanline said a state-led fact-finding panel met Dec. 2 and is expected to issue its recommendations the first week of January, which the board has pledged to follow. At that point, the board can impose salary cuts unilaterally and the teachers have the legal right to vote to strike.

Tonight, two public hearings, followed by board votes, will be held for modifications in running Denair Academic Avenues, an arts-enriched elementary school, and the Denair Charter Academy, an independent study program primarily for at-risk youth.

Language proposed for both schools includes a plan to block bumping of future hires between the charters and regular district schools, Hanline said. The change would have to be negotiated with the Denair Unified Teachers Association, which represents district regular and charter teachers.

Some teachers laid off by the district for this year had more seniority than those in the specialty schools, allowing them under the existing contract to take those jobs, “bumping” those teachers. “The problem with that is that the charter school inherited people who do not necessarily have the heart to be in the charter school,” Hanline said.

“We’re going to grandfather in the existing staff,” he said. But new hires would not automatically have a right to switch between district and charter schools.

Denair Academic Avenues would have other changes as well. Its governance committee, designed as the final word for the charter, would become a traditional advisory board under the changes. The Denair school board would be the lead agency. The charter now operates as a kind of hybrid, administered by Denair Unified but led by an independent board.

Other changes proposed in the lengthy document include expanding the charter, commonly called D2A, through eighth grade and changing a requirement that classes have only 20 students to more flexible “small class sizes.”

Parent involvement, team teaching and a focus on individual and small-group instruction would continue. Multi-age grouping, in which children could progress along grade levels at their own pace, would be discontinued. An 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. day would replace the 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. schedule for Mondays through Thursdays, with 12:30 p.m. dismissal Fridays.

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