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 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.
March 21, 2014
Members of the Ojai Unified School District Community,
On March 13, I sent the report presented below to all District staff, detailing the important issues addressed at the March 11 Board Meeting. Since then, I have met with the parent leadership and the staff members from almost every school to discuss the items. Additional meetings are scheduled for next week and in early April. As always, I welcome an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone call (640-4300 x 1012) from you.
The committee’s study of the 6th grade potentially moving to Matilija in August 2015, as noted in #3, will begin soon after Spring Break. Committee meetings will be announced in the Ojai Valley News and will be open to the public. The committee will include representatives of the faculty, administration, Board of Education, and parents. The important conversation concerning the Local Control Accountability Plan will begin with public meetings in the District Office Board Room after Spring Break. The dates and times of the meetings will be well publicized.
1) Danni Pusatere reported the great news that the $666,000 budget gap for 2014-15, projected in January 2014, has been eliminated. This occurred for two predominant reasons. First, after January, the state increased the pace of additional revenues to all districts provided by the new funding formula, known as LCFF. That change resulted in cutting our budget gap in half to about $330,000. Second, most of the remaining gap was eliminated by a 3.4 FTE reduction in certificated and classified staffing across the District. Most of these decreases were tied to retirements and occurred in schools where we will experience declining enrollment next school year (2013-14 District enrollment - 2,700; 2014-15 projected enrollment - 2,633). Danni also showed a 2015-16 potential budget with projected revenues that provide options we have not seen since the 2008-09 school year (e.g., potential return of all furlough days beyond the four remaining instructional days that definitely will be returned in the school calendar that year; potential decreases in class size).
2) The Board supported my recommendation that Danni and I complete the necessary research to the Board to make a critical decision in June; specifically, whether to present to the community either a parcel tax measure or a facilities bond measure on the November 2014 ballot. You are welcome to receive a copy of the 20-page report from our financial consultant describing these options. Based on the phone survey of our community in January, there is support for one measure or the other at some level of tax tolerance (see p. 20 for the consultant’s recommendations). Also, on p. 4 you will learn that 63% of the respondents rated the quality of education in the District as excellent or good compared with a 23% rating of either fair or poor (14% did not know).
3) The Board supported my recommendation to convene a committee, which I will chair, to study the advantages and disadvantages of moving the 6th grade to MJHS in August 2015. The report of the committee would come to the Board no later than the October 14, 2014 Board Meeting. Any Board decision would take place no later than the November 18, 2014 Board Meeting.
4) The Board received an extensive report from Director of Elementary Education and Special Projects Marilyn Smith concerning the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) component of the new Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF).
5) I reported to the Board that next school year, there will be no kindergarten at Summit School. Space will be provided for Summit kindergarteners at San Antonio.
August 27, 2013
Members of the Ojai Unified School District Community,
I offer each of you a most enthusiastic welcome to the 2013-14 school year. Whether you have ever been a parent or grandparent of an OUSD student, the school district, especially in a small town, is a treasure of the community. As many of you are aware, the past four years have been a difficult test for the professional efforts of our staff members, with class sizes increasing and compensation decreasing due to dwindling resources from Sacramento. I am proud to tell you that I can imagine no group of certificated and classified staff members who could have served the students of any school district in a more exemplary fashion than our faculty and support staffs have exhibited.
The revenue picture for the 2013-14 school year has improved somewhat compared with recent years. In the late spring and early summer, several important changes for the 2013-14 school year were implemented and the planning of others began. The paragraphs below describe three of these initiatives.
Due to some increases in enrollment since the June projections, all three grade-configuration components of the District (K-6, 7-8 and 9-12) now have more faculty positions allocated than were projected for the 2013-14 school year. In the next few weeks, I will be increasing by at least 50% the present $100,000 line item for classified and certificated hourly staff, designed to support our elementary school teachers, predominantly in grades K-3. When these additional staffing costs have been infused into the 2013-14 District Budget, Ms. Danni Pusatere, our District financial administrator, and I will analyze whether we can afford the expenditure required to reduce the number of furlough days for staff by a third day. On June 4, 2013, the Board of Education approved the reduction of two furlough days in the 2013-14 school year, thus returning one student instructional day and one staff development day to the school year calendar. The third day would be scheduled as another student attendance day.
In the academic arena, the 2013-14 school year represents the transition period away from the California Standards Tests to the enactment of significant changes in teaching and learning represented by the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). While it is unclear at this juncture what portion of the longstanding testing program will be retained in the spring of 2014, it is clear that during this school year our District will focus heavily on preparing for the full implementation of CCSS in the fall of 2014. In my opinion, CCSS is a very significant and positive step forward for the education of our students. I am excited to work with the staff on the complex challenges ahead.
In recent years, the devastating impacts of all types of bullying have challenged certificated and classified staffs around the nation. The Ojai Unified School District has not been spared from these events. While I am proud of the forthright and sensitive manner in which our staff members have handled the great majority of these cases, more formal and intensive training for all of us is needed. To that end, Jeanine Murphy, our District expert on issues involving students under the greatest emotional distress, will meet with the faculty at each school, all classified staff, students in many of our grades, and parents throughout the community to explain our more rigorous expectations and reporting protocols relating to bullying.
As always, I welcome your e-mails and/or phone calls. My relevant contact information is listed next to my photograph above.
May 30, 2013
Members of the Ojai Unified School District Community,
The month of June in Sacramento will be characterized by intense negotiations between the governor and the legislature regarding the amount of additional revenue each school district will receive next school year. My communication to you today is designed to keep you informed about the status of the 2013-14 state budget and our district’s financial condition at this juncture.
The State Budget
I am certain that you have been reading about the improved revenue stream coming into Sacramento from various tax sources (i.e., income tax, higher sales tax after Prop. 30). The governor is committed to paying down the state debt quickly and providing a disproportionate amount of any increased revenue for schools to those districts with high percentages of low-income and/or ELL populations. Our district has lower percentages of both populations than the state average.
On June 7, several other Ventura County superintendents and I will meet with Assemblymember Das Williams. My goal is to seek his support to help the legislature slow down the governor’s repayment of the debt and infuse the K-12 education arena with more funds next year. In my opinion, and in the opinion of our Board of Education, the state should place its highest priority on restoring the funding levels of the 2007-08 school year.
Our District Budget
We will certainly receive greater overall funding next year than this year. Unfortunately, we have a significant budget gap (lower projected revenues than expenditures) created by continuing declining enrollment and our use of all available one-time sources of revenue in recent school years to retain as many staff members as possible. In that domain, I am very pleased to inform you that every teacher and almost every classified staff member who worked with us this year and who wanted to return next year will, in fact, be offered a contract for next year.
Unfortunately, we still needed to include in our projected 2013-14 school year budget the ongoing furlough days program that has been in place since the 2009-10 school year. Nothing has been finalized in that area yet. I can tell you that there is absolute agreement among the Board of Education, leaders of both unions, Danni and me that our highest priority is to reduce the number of furlough days in the 2013-14 school year, even if we can afford only one less day.
I will communicate with you about these state and local subjects before and after our school year ends on June 12.