August 26, 2014
Members of the Ojai Unified School District Community,
Through this letter, I welcome you to the 2014-15 school year. As I enter my sixth year as the superintendent of schools in Ojai and my twenty-ninth year as a superintendent, I can state with absolute certainty that our school district is a critical component of our community. Two exceptionally important initiatives are emerging this fall.
1) Common Core State Standards
In the academic arena, the 2014-15 school year represents the beginning of an exciting new era in American public education with the implementation of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Our faculty and administration worked intensively last school year preparing for the changes embodied in Common Core. At the Back-to-School Night at each school in early or mid-September, the principal and faculty will explain the teaching and learning impacts of Common Core, particularly in the study of language arts and mathematics. Presented below is the resolution approved by the Board of Education at its October 15, 2013 Meeting, following a recommendation from the leadership of our District staff.
“All students deserve a world-class education for success in college, careers, and life. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and assessments help ensure that all high school graduates develop critical thinking skills of comprehension, application, analysis, and evaluation required for a successful future in an increasingly competitive and global world.
The CCSS represent key shifts in teaching and learning, emphasizing:
• in-depth writing over short-answer or multiple choice evaluations,
• student research over lectures,
• collaborative learning in addition to individual learning,
• evidence-based understanding over factual recall,
• depth over breadth in the study of academic disciplines, and
• integrated, interdisciplinary knowledge over isolated, subject- based knowledge.”
2) Facilities Improvement Measure J on the November 4 Ballot
At the June 27, 2014 Board of Education Meeting, the Board approved placing what has become Measure J on the November 4, 2014 ballot. Measure J is a $35 million bond issue that is designed to accomplish primarily the following facilities improvements:
- upgrading inadequate electrical systems for modern technology,
- replacing antiquated heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems,
- repairing or replacing deteriorating plumbing, sewer systems and leaky roofs,
- upgrading athletic fields and some other outdoor facilities,
- making health, safety, and security improvements.
Please refer to the document, “Frequently Asked Questions Concerning the November 4, 2014 Bond Issue - Measure J” on the District Web page for important information. This material will be supplemented each week as I receive and answer questions from community members.
As always, I welcome your e-mails and/or phone calls on any subject involving the School District. My relevant contact information is listed next to my photograph above.
June 16, 2014
Members of the Ojai Unified School District Community,
On June 10, I sent the report below to the members of the District staff. As always, I welcome your e-mails and/or phone calls concerning the issues raised here or any other items you wish to address. My relevant contact information is listed next to my photograph above. I hope you have a wonderful summer break.
On this next to last day of our school year, I am sharing three important updates below. First, however, I wish you a most wonderful time away with family and friends. Having now completed five years as your superintendent, I continue to admire and appreciate the multitude of ways your professionalism and commitment are realized by our students, their parents and our community. Thank you very sincerely.
While adding one more student attendance day (March 9) to our 2014-15 school year calendar is not even close to the result I wished for the students and you, it is all we could afford. Next year, then, we have decreased the furlough days to five for faculty and classified staff and seven for administrators. My first priority for the 2015-16 school year is to make every employee in this District “whole” (i.e., return to the full calendar that was in place for the last time in the 2008-09 school year).
I. District budget projections for 2014-15 through 2017-18 - Perhaps you have followed the political maneuverings in Sacramento in the era of post-Proposition 30 (the education funding proposal passed in November 2012). With a Democratic Party-controlled legislature and a number of Republicans supporting Governor Brown’s fiscal conservatism, the governor is clearly running the show in Sacramento. The only thing he may not get is his bullet train. Everything else that is money-related is his for the taking. Unfortunately, as of three weeks ago, we have been dramatically affected by his agenda.
For the past three months, Danni Pusatere and I have shared all we have learned from our financial consultants with the leaders of our two unions and the administrators. In March, when I met with each school staff, I reported that our projected budget deficit for next year was eliminated by some greater state funding. During April, state budget estimates were exceptionally positive as significantly greater than projected tax revenues were received. These reports from Sacramento resulted in a projected, ascending fund balance for us that grew to almost $1.2M in the 2017-18 school year. Then in mid-May, the governor dropped a bombshell on school districts. He proposed a schedule of radically increasing payments required from school districts to address the $74B shortfall in the state certificated school employees’ retirement fund, a liability which had been underfunded by state legislatures for several decades. His plan increases the longstanding payment from school districts of $825 per $10,000 of certificated salaries to $1,910 per $10,000 in the 2020-21 school year! A district with a significant fund balance can potentially absorb this increase with a relatively moderate effect. For a district like ours, which operates at the margin, his plan was devastating to the positive fund balances we were anticipating only one month earlier. Last week, Danni and I made our case for some relief from the governor’s plan to our two outstanding state representatives, Assemblymember Das Williams and State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. Both were very concerned about the impact we described. Frankly, though, I left from the conversations feeling that the governor will get whatever he wants, including his “Rainy Day Fund” using significant money that should go to the public sector. When you return in August, I will inform you about state and District budget events from over the summer.
II. Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) - This state-mandated document is now complete, pending Board approval at its June 24 Meeting. Marilyn Smith was the architect of this process and was the primary writer. As usual, she did an exemplary job. You can find the final plan on the home page of our District Web site.
III. 6th Grade Study Committee - Yesterday was the fifth and final meeting of this 21-member committee, comprised of a certificated staff member and a parent from each elementary school, several Matilija representatives, and two Board of Education members. I convened the committee in mid-April to provide counsel to me on the option of moving our 6th grade to Matilija at some point in the future. As of next year, the grades 6-8 middle school plan is in place in every other Ventura County district. Presented below are the results of yesterday’s final actions.
I informed the committee, that given my serious concerns about the escalating, mandated expenditures initiated by the governor described above, I cannot now identify a date to place a recommendation for a grades 6-8 middle school in Ojai on the agenda for a Board of Education.
That having been said, there was a strong - almost a unanimous - statement from the committee members that, setting our significant financial challenges aside for a moment, the District would benefit more from a K-5, 6-8 organizational structure than the present K-6, 7-8 model. I must underscore, however, that, in concert with the higher rating for the 6-8 model, there was consistent praise for the excellence of our 6th grade teachers who are delivering a fine, well-regarded program. The higher rating for the 6-8 option in no way reflected dissatisfaction with the present 6th grade program or for Matilija in grades 7-8. Rather, the enthusiasm for the grades 6-8 middle school option was rooted in: the perceived, enhanced programmatic excellence at Matilija with an additional grade; opportunities for all 6th graders and 6th grade teachers to work and learn together; strong integration of grades 6-8 academics in a Common Core era; and greater elective and co-curricular opportunities for 6th graders in one location.
I told the members that there was a point of euphoria approximately six weeks ago when we were looking at a short-term and perhaps a longer-term future with some real choices for programmatic improvements, even beyond returning all furlough days, improving staff compensation and reducing class size. That all changed with the governor’s full-speed ahead approach to addressing the pension gap.
Therefore, I asked the committee to detail their spending priorities, given my projection of an annual cost of about $150,000 to implement the movement of the 6th grade to Matilija, equal to about the cost of a 1% increase in staff compensation or the cost of two new teachers and a new classified staff position. The members stated unequivocally and almost unanimously that, acknowledging their very positive recommendation for a grades 6-8 Matilija, this change should only be considered after all furlough days are returned, staff compensation is improved and class sizes are reduced.
In an e-mail I wrote to about 30 faculty members one week before I asked the 6th Grade Study Committee members for their views, I emphatically stated the same position. Therefore, there was no debate yesterday about how to proceed.
Thus, at the June 24 Board of Education Meeting, when I detail the work of the committee for the Board members, I will share with them that perhaps a Matilija with grades 6-8 should be - and perhaps will be - in our future. However, I cannot recommend any action now that would cause that to occur.