Faced with a dual-language program that’s bursting at the seams, Turlock Unified School District trustees took steps to start a sister program at a second campus and move its sixth-grade class to a middle school to accommodate all the growth.
The board also decided to boost the pay of Superintendent Sonny Da Marto, who announced he will retire June 30.
With a unanimous vote Tuesday, board members decided to put temporary fixes in place for a year to ease crowding at the Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy for one year, but set in motion plans to send its sixth-graders to Dutcher Middle School and open dual-language kindergarten classes at nearby Wakefield Elementary in 2016-17.
Osborn is projected to swell to 1,037 students next year, even after capping its kindergarten lottery at 168 slots. Roughly 200 families will be crossing their fingers at the March 5 drawing, said Principal Ed Ewing.
“This year’s been difficult,” Ewing told the board. “We can do this for a year, if starting tomorrow we start to plan and plan well.”
Renting a portable restroom, adding a campus supervisor and possibly adding a food cart and outdoor lunch seating will be part of the package, district officials said.
“Come down and have lunch with us – for three hours,” Osborn parent Mary Jackson told the board.
Adding sixth-graders would make a true middle school at Dutcher, which now has only seventh and eighth grades. The district will weigh opening the school to sixth-grade students from other schools as well, said Assistant Superintendent Dana Trevethan.
Wakefield was the clear choice for a second program, said Kea Willett, who heads the district’s efforts for English learners. The southwest Turlock school serves the highest number of Spanish-speaking students in the district. The immersion program needs those native speakers, now that English-speaking student outnumber Spanish-speakers who are applying.
In other business, the board voted unanimously for a 10 percent raise for Da Marto. The superintendent said at the start of the meeting that he would retire at the school year’s end, closing the book on a 38-year career, seven with Turlock Unified.
“Our classified, confidential, certificated and administrative staffs have given me hope that the ‘lighthouse district’ we envisioned seven years ago will come to pass,” Da Marto said in an email to employees and community members.
Earlier, the board faced a standing-room-only crowd of support staff and teachers gathered to protest raises it gave its administrators at the previous meeting.
“They were telling us they didn’t have the money,” said support staff union President Domenic Bagnani, citing requests to expand bereavement leave two days and boost health care benefits to the area average.
“We haven’t been unfair with this district, and we don’t believe we’re asking for much,” said Bagnani, who represents 539 workers in the California State Employees Association Turlock chapter.
The district gave 5.2 percent raises to employees in different combinations of higher pay and more hours. However, before giving the 5.2 percent raise to management, the board voted to boost the jobs’ base salaries to be more in line with Modesto City Schools, serving twice the number of students, and Ceres Unified, which is roughly the same size.
The result kicked up pay for assistant superintendents by 14 percent, from an average of $134,648 to about $153,500, retroactive to July 1. Several in the audience held signs with “14%.” School principals, district supervisors and others saw their pay rise by lesser amounts.
“We fixed a lot of things that haven’t been fixed in a long time,” said trustee Barney Gordon, noting some jobs got no bump, while other raises were significant.
A more regular overview is needed, so salaries will not get “so out of whack,” trustee Jennifer Carter said.
But board President Frank Lima said he felt equitable health benefits for support staff, most at the low end of the district’s pay scale, needed to be considered as well. “We’ve got to look at salary and benefits combined,” he said.