Mariposa County Unified School District Superintendent Aaron Rosander is Denair’s choice for its new schools chief.
A former science teacher, Rosander, 57, is the elected head of the Mariposa County Office of Education and its countywide unified school district. He is expected to take the reins at Denair Unified on Feb. 8, assuming the board confirms the selection at its meeting tonight.
“Mr. Rosander has a great reputation and has experience with our kind of issues,” said Barry Cole, calling Rosander “a fantastic choice.” Cole, president of the Denair Unified Teachers Association, said the union “is truly thrilled with the choice the board has made to lead us through the next several years.”
In other positive news for the district, Denair Unified and its teachers are back at the table, report in hand from the fact-finding panel convened as a last resort in contentious negotiations.
Cole said the union met with the district Monday evening and had a negotiation session Tuesday. Another session is set for next week, after which the report will be made public.
Asked to comment on the likelihood of a strike at this point, Cole said, “We can only strike after an imposition (of salary cuts), but I sincerely hope and trust we can reach an agreement before those steps are necessary.”
Though neither side could release details of the fact-finding recommendations, interim Superintendent Walt Hanline said all parties had concurred with the report, including the union. “This is truly an unbiased report, It’s not all that we wanted. It’s not all that they wanted,” he said. “The facts are just hard, hurtful facts. It’s going to impact people’s lives, and that’s just sad.”
Trustees will review the report tonight in a closed-door meeting and could impose its recommendations for any salary cuts unilaterally. They will take up the superintendent’s selection and contract at their regular 7 p.m. meeting directly after the special session regarding negotiations.
Hanline, who served as facilitator in the superintendent search, said the community and board appear happy with the choice. “It was the deepest pool of candidates that I have seen in 10 years of searches,” he said.
In an unusual step, the district had a 25-member citizens committee join in the first round of interviews. Among the members was Jim Lawson, reached by phone Wednesday, who said Rosander was his top choice. “He seems like a real good, likable guy,” Lawson said. “He’s come from a district that’s had similar issues to ours. They’ve been in semicrisis mode with their budget.”
The citizens group helped ease concerns of community members and parents with whom he spoke, Lawson said. “All of us shared the same concerns,” he said. “They are very happy with the process and the final selection.”
New board member Sandi Dirkse said the input helped. “Working together with the community panel during the interview process was invaluable, and I so appreciate the time that was dedicated,” she said.
Dirkse said Rosander was a good fit. “Aaron brings both the experience and the enthusiasm for education that I was hoping for,” she said. “This is an exciting time for the future of Denair.”
The Mariposa County system Rosander now leads has nine campuses serving 1,800 students, a steadily declining figure since 1997. Budget cuts forced the closure of Mariposa Middle School in 2012 and an elementary school in 2011. Denair Unified, with roughly 1,500 students, is one of 25 school districts in Stanislaus County.
Rosander’s draft contract to be voted on tonight runs through June 2017. It would set a prorated, first-year salary of $120,083, with 3.5 percent automatic raises each year with a good evaluation.
Also in the pact are $5,000 for moving expenses, a $3,000 yearly incentive to live within the Denair Unified district and a tax-sheltered annuity rising from $1,000 this year to $4,000 in 2016-17. In addition, the contract adds $150 monthly for incidental expenses and a $350 monthly car allowance.
Denair’s fiscal crisis has brought it to the brink of state receivership, having run through reserves and $258,000 into the red last year, according to a 2012-13 audit trustees will vote on approving tonight. The district is on track to have a $685,000 deficit by June 30, according to the audit report.
The district must slash spending to bring the budget into balance, expected to include salary cuts, to avoid being taken over by the state at fiscal year’s end.